New Political Party Could Face State And Local Investigations
San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu said Monday his office has received complaints regarding the actions of signature gatherers for the Common Sense Party that were referred to the District Attorney’s office and to the California Secretary of State.
The complaints came after a KPBS investigation found that signature gatherers were registering voters for the party without their knowledge or consent. KPBS contacted 30 people listed as Common Sense Party members, and all of them said they'd never heard of the party and had no idea they were registering as party members.
Last week, state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, called on District Attorney Summer Stephan to launch an investigation into the signature gatherers' methods. Specifically, Gonzalez wrote a letter to the DA’s office asking for an investigation into whether that activity violates California's election code.
"We shouldn't be lying to people who are registering to vote, that is outright problematic," Gonzalez said.
About 5,000 people have signed up for the Common Sense Party in San Diego County, according to numbers from the Registrar of Voters. The party says they have at least 19,000 members statewide. James Lackritz, an SDSU statistics professor, said based on the number of people contacted by KPBS, it is likely that at least 83 percent of the Common Sense registrants in the county are unaware they joined the party.
The party was started by, among others, former Bay Area Republican Congressman Tom Campbell and Julie Meier Wright, who once led the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, to provide an alternative to Republicans and Democrats. The plan is to get 67,000 people who are already registered to vote to change their political party to Common Sense, which will qualify it as an official party on future ballots.
To accomplish this, the party paid signature gatherers as much as $6 per signature to sign up voters. Because the Common Sense Party is not yet official, it does not have to file campaign financial disclosure forms with the state that detail its fundraising and spending.
Gonzalez said she was also troubled by KPBS's finding that the majority of registered Common Sense voters were young and from lower-income urban communities that she represents, including Barrio Logan and City Heights.
"Communities where voters aren't always as engaged, they're busy, they're working multiple jobs, they're trying to get by," she said. "When you're preying on in particular south of (Interstate) 8 voters that I represent, I wanted to know why and how it could be corrected."
Gonzalez said she wants Common Sense Party leaders to inform everyone registered with the party that they might have been signed up without their knowledge, and to get to the bottom of how it happened. She said she would consider potential future legislation dictating how signature gatherers sign people up for political parties, but is waiting to see what the DA investigation finds.
A DA spokesman would not comment on whether there would be an investigation or what the next steps would be.
Julie Meier Wright, one of the organizers of the Common Sense Party, said party leaders are already working to look into what happened.
"We are fully prepared to support any kind of investigation," she said. "I am very happy because I want to get to the bottom of this as much as anyone else."
She said they have asked the petition drive management firm they paid to do the signature gathering, the La Jolla Group, to follow up with everyone who registered with their party in San Diego County. Leaders have also already sent an email to anyone who listed an email address in their Common Sense Party voter registration.