Identity Theft Or Tactic To Keep Petition Off Ballot?
Does petition signature gathering open you up to Identity Theft? The San Diego Labor Council says yes, but those behind the City Reform Pension plan say it's unfairly targeting them in an attempt to block their measure from making the ballot.
T.J. Zane, Chairman, Comprehensive Pension Reform Campaign
Lorena Gonzalez, Secretary-Treasurer of the San Diego Labor Council
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
FUDGE: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Tom Fudge, filling in for Maureen Cavanaugh. Today on midday, we'll talk about the search for a new green revolution by probing the genetics of plants, and we'll find out what can be done to clean up pollution that was deposited in San Diego bay decades ago. First, a look at a campaign to stop identity theft that critics say has an ulterior modify. To stop an effort to reform the San Diego City pension plan. Some city leaders are trying to eliminate defined benefit pensions for most new city employes. They're trying to get a measure on next year's municipal ballot. Such measures require thousands of voters to sign a petition, but a laborer backed group seems to be fighting it by linking signatures to the possibility of identity theft. KPBS metro reporter Katie Orr has the story.
ORR: A political ad playing on radio stations across Southern California depicts a scene a lot of people living here are familiar with.
NEW SPEAKER: I just got back from the market, and those pushy signature gatherers are back!
ORR: If enough people sign and those signatures are later deemed valid, the issue can be placed on a ballot for a public vote. This latest ad is trying to get people to think twice about signing.
NEW SPEAKER: Oh, honey! Please, tell he you didn't sign their petitions.
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I did, is there a problem?
NEW SPEAKER: You know you put yourself at risk of identity theft.
NEW SPEAKER: Are you kidding me?
ORR: The laborer backed California group for -- eliminating city pensions, he's filed a complaint with the state attorney general's office, and asking for an investigation into the ad and other laborer activities he says are designed to disrupt the initiative process.
NEW SPEAKER: I don't care whose initiative it's targeted at, it's wrong, it's deceptive, and the folks that have put this ad up should be help accountable.
ORR: DeMaio also file aid complaint with the fair practices commission. The complaint has been dismissed. He maintains laborer unions are afraid his measure will pass.
ORR: They're trying to scare Californians and San Diegans into not recognizing their initiative rights you should the constitution.
NEW SPEAKER: The complaint is frivolous, and it'll be dismissed.
ORR: Roger Salazar is spokesman for Californians against identity theft. He says people who sign petitions should be cautious.
NEW SPEAKER: We have every right to broadcast our views about the sordid history and the potential future of views that are inherent in California signature gathering process.
ORR: Salazar points to paid gatherers forging signatures into people's political party affiliations being switched. Still the process is widely used on both ends of the political spectrum. Vladimir Kogan studies trends at the university of San Diego. Of he says the chances of your identity being stolen based on sign a petition are slim. He his a lot of the.
NEW SPEAKER: I not only have their addresses and birthdays, I know if they have a cat or dog, what language they speak at home, I know how many kids they have, how old their kids are.
ORR: He says it wouldn't be a bad thing if the ad gets people to think more critical about what they're siting.
NEW SPEAKER: If you want back 100†years and asked the framers of the initiative process what they envisioned, they would not envision paid signature collectors sitting outside of Walmart?
ORR: Its modern form, getting something on the ballot is largely an issue of which side has enough money to gather enough signatures or to make sure a measure never makes it to voters.
FUDGE: And I'm Tom Fudge, you're listening to Midday Edition. We're going to continue this issue with a discussion between TJ Zane and Lorena Gonzalez. TJ Zane joins me on the phone, he's chairman of the city pension reform campaign. And thanks a lot.
ZANE: You're welcome. Thank you Tom.
FUDGE: And Lorena Gonzalez is secretary treasurer of the San Diego laborer council. Thank you for joining us on midday.
GONZALES: Thank you, Tom.
FUDGE: And if you want to join the conversation, you can call 1-888-895-5727. And TJ, I'm going to start with you. You just heard Katie Orr's piece looking at the signature gathering under way, about the city pension plan. Do you think identity is theft is the problem this group is concerned about or do you think they have another modify for this ad that we heard?
ZANE: Yeah, I think the organization itself is engaged in selling some red herrings. The Californians against identity theft as an identity crisis of its own. They only revealed themselves or identified themselves after pressure from groups like ours. The reality is that groups like this are created to oppose pension efforts state wide. And I think it's fair to say this organization was not created to deraign the pension reform effort in the City of San Diego. It was also intended to derail the signature collection efforts for pension reform efforts staid wide, including an initiative aimed at banning corporate and union contributions directly to candidates. And initiatives aimed at putting an end to union friendly project laborer agreements.
FUDGE: Now you say that they've identified themselves. So who are they? Or who do you claim they are?
ZANE: In the Sacramento bee and elsewhere, they have been outed as a building and trade industry union. So they're -- it's out there in the public domain as far as the unions who are sponsoring or bank rolling this Californians for identity theft organization.
FUDGE: So you feel that what they're doing in San Diego is they're trying to prevent your initiative from getting on the ballot because they don't want to see pension reform.
ZANE: Again, I'm not claiming that this organization is specifically targeting the pension reform effort in the City of San Diego, but I think it's one tactic employed, one of many, employed by laborer unions throughout the state to derail reform initiatives. Other tactics include sending out blockers to collection points and intimidating voters from exercising their rights to go up and sign onto these petitions. And also engaged in signature stacking.
FUDGE: Blockers. Are you saying that they're doing that? That they're trying to intimidate people who might sign the petition?
ZANE: Absolutely. Intimidate, make it uncomfortable for them to walk forward to the table where someone is collecting signatures. Voters are like the rest of us, want to shy away from controversy, just don't want to be bothered with it and simply walk on by into the gaucherie store.
FUDGE: You have evidence they're doing that in San Diego?
ZANE: We have numerous videos that we've taken to document the blocking activities, and we're in discussions with our attorneys as to the appropriate use of those videos, but there's no question it's going on.
FUDGE: Now, councilman Carl DeMaio shares your opinion, I think. And he filed a complaint about the radio ad, but this was dismissed. His complaint was dismissed by the fair political practices commission. What's your comment on that?
ZANE: The fact that there is within 24†hours after the plea had been filed, the organization Tuesday filed a form as a political action committee. They filed the necessary paperwork with the fair practices commission. They realized they were engaging in political activity, and if that wasn't the intention going forward, I just find it interesting that all of a sudden out of the blue after years of identity theft being a problem, this organization surfaces within a matter of weeks of several reform oriented measures qualifying for the June†2012 ballot.
FUDGE: Before I need to get Lorena Gonzalez involved in the discussion, but before I move away from you, TJ, do you not think that identity theft is a problem when you sign one of these petition signatures? Sign one of these petitions?
ZANE: I agree with the gentleman on your segment, the piece that you just aired, you have just as much risk of having your identity stolen by signing onto one of those petitions as the information that's publicly available. You can go right down to the registrar of voters' office now, and request a voter roll, and get someone's name and address, and that's the only thing anyone is providing on a petition.
FUDGE: And TJ is chairman of the city pension reform campaign. Let me get to Lorena Gonzalez, secretary treasurer with the San Diego County laborer council. And you've heard what TJ had to say. What would you like to say to respond to.
GONZALES: A lot of this effort has started to increase because as we went out and have volunteers going out, talking to people who are signing these signatures, we found out that the signature gatherers were using a variety of lies and deception to get people to sign. So we basically went out and said think twice. Read the actual initiative. I don't think that's bullying or intimidating people. I think people should read an initiative before they sign onto it. We had gatherers saying just about requesting to get people to sign. They said firefighters weren't excluded from this pension reform. They wouldn't tell people that they actually, the city workers don't get Social Security, and that these backers, corporate backers, were not putting the workers back into Social Security. So there were a number. Mistruths and deceptive ways. We also saw at the San Diego pride festival that these signature gatherers pushed by Carl DeMaio were actually telling people that they were signing to get legalized gay marriage. That's how they were getting people to sign. We have videos of all of this. A tremendous amount of videos, we're turning them over to the attorney general and the DA once this is complete.
FUDGE: Deception is one issue. Identity theft is another. First of all, do you support the campaign we Californian against identity theft?
GONZALES: That's not my group. But it is a state building trades, it is a union organization, and I do support it. And I'll tell you why. The same reason that the Orange County register today, you're not talking a pro-laborer backed newspaper, and the UT this weekend both talked about the problems with signature gatherers. The Orange County registrar pointed out a story they published as far back as 2006 how a number of signature gatherers, 20% of which when they did a pole, had felony backgrounds, yet they're able to go to people and not just get their name and address but also their signature. These were used by the gatherers to go out for personal gain and switch people's party ID. That is identity theft.
FUDGE: I suppose it can help happen, but TJ said, you can get a person's name and address a lot of different places. Why are we so concerned about signatures that go onto petitions?
GONZALES: Last time I checked you can get my name and address if you search for hard for it, but you can't get my signature, necessarily. And that I think does broaden the scope of what someone can do. If you remember, it's just a Somali -- with this unregulated business. There are no standards, people are not signed, the signature gatherers are only paid per signature. That means there's an incentive to do and say anything to get your signature and to use it for alternative purposes. We've seen the deceptive tactics, we've seen them go out and say this'll lower gas prices. What does it have to do with gas prices or gay marriage? These are the questions that go unanswered by the proponents, the people paying these signature gatherers. Carl DeMaio said you cannot distinguish his campaign from this initiative. Then he needs to say whether or not he's collecting signatures to legalize gay marriage.
FUDGE: All sorts of groups try to get petitions on the ballot, including laborer groups what your critics are saying, not the critics of you, but critics of Californians against identity theft is this is talking about identity theft is stilly a back door way to prevent this ballot measure for pension reform getting on the ballot.
GONZALES: Obviously we started getting more involved in what was happening with these signature gatherers. The number of corporate backed so second called reform ventures that have been put out by Carl DeMaio and his friends in San Diego, and the more we started to explore and realized just how about this industry is and how badly the workers are treated. And how badly it is for consumers, for those people who are participating in the process, we have let a lot of people know about that. The we become very concerned. We back legislation now to change the way this is regulated. This is anion issue, and I have been the first to not knowing an industry we've participated in the past without knowing really what was requesting on behind the scenes. Now we know.
FUDGE: So this movement has nothing to do with trying to prevent certain ballot measures from getting on the ballot.
GONZALES: Our movement started because we wanted people to read the initiative. We wanted people to actually know what they were signing, on a variety of terms, so we started a campaign using union volunteers to tell people please read this. There are so many lies put out my by these signature gatherers. And then we've uncovered all these other worms that we think need to be dealt with.
MAUREEN FUDGE: Let me go back to you, TJ Zane. I think you've heard what Lorena Gonzalez has to say. What would you like to say in response?
ZANE: You just heard it. The reason they said they got more engaged is because they realized a number of there's initiatives have corporate backer it is. I'm sure the unions would like to unionize all the signature collectors out there. The reality is what you said, Tom, there are individuals out there collecting signatures for petitions on a whole variety of issues from pension reform to banning corporate and laborer contributions directly to candidates, to banning project laborer agreements, the list goes on and on. And so naturally when you're going to confront some of these signature gatherers, you can't expect they're going to be very knowledge on every single issue, they're going to make mistakes. But that's not deceptive. It doesn't mean they're engaged in identity theft. The fact of the matter is, this is just an all out effort to derail reform initiative state wide.
FUDGE: Someone's got to get the last word. So Lorena, what do you say to that?
GONZALES: We have tape after tape of signature gatherers going out and saying whatever it is in order to try to get somebody to sign because they get paid per signature. I think these gatherers should be paid like any other employee. I agree that they should get a decent wage so they're not putting out mistruths that are never corrected by the campaign, by the way. The campaign is not honest about what they're trying to do, they never have been, they continue to not be. So I think it's imperative that we let people know the truth. And in the meantime, we also look at this unregulated business and find a better way to do it.
FUDGE: Well, let's take one call. Let's see. M no, I'm afraid we're out of time. I think we'll have to leave it at that. So thanks very much to our guests, TJ Zane is chairman of the city pension reform campaign. TJ Zane, thank you very much.
ZANE: Thank you.
MAUREEN FUDGE: And Lorena Gonzales is secretary treasurer of the San Diego laborer council. Thank you Lorena.
GONZALES: Thank you, Tom.
FUDGE: You're listening to Midday Edition, I'm Tom Fudge, we're going to take a break.