In Oregon, it is now a crime to be both an innocent bystander and a leading participant in democracy.
Or it soon will be, if Oregon’s Governor Kulongoski signs a bill that has just emerged from the state legislature. The bilious bill would fine leaders of a citizen initiative campaign $10,000 if anybody working for the campaign is found to have committed fraud in the process of gathering signatures.
The alleged wrongdoing is not being complicit in fraud but “failing to prevent” it. Do you see the problem? No screening process, no matter how careful, can eliminate the free will of campaign workers. A chief petitioner on a campaign cannot be everywhere watching everyone as more than a hundred thousand people sign the petition. Under this law, an opponent could bankrupt the leader of a ballot measure by joining the effort and committing fraudulent acts.
This and other less zany — but still burdensome — provisions are designed, presumably, to “cut down on fraud and abuse.” Tough job for a bill that is itself inherently fraudulent and abusive.
It’s real purpose, of course, is to hamper and obstruct the petition process.
The only Senate Democrat to vote no to the bill, state Senator Vicki Walker, notes that some activists will be more reluctant now to be lead a ballot initiative if they can be socked with a huge fine for a violation committed by somebody else.
Well, that’s obvious. It’s also, sadly, the point.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.