Maine is one of 24 states that allows citizens to petition their state government to change a law. This right has existed since 1908, but one component of the system is in desperate need of regulation and transparency. For decades, rumors have circulated that some referendum campaigns have used non-residents to circulate and solicit petition signatures.

The Maine Constitution, however, in Article IV, Part Third, Section 20, defines “circulator” for citizen petitions as “a person who solicits signatures for written petitions, and who must be a resident of this State and whose name must appear on the voting list of the city, town or plantation of the circulator’s residence as qualified to vote for Governor.”

Supporters of the recently defeated bear referendum, specifically, the Humane Society of the United States, however, sidestepped our state constitutional requirement to be a resident of Maine by using what they called “resident witnesses.” The Humane Society is not the only group that has used this tactic, but did it more aggressively than others have.

The Humane Society hired PCI consulting of California to recruit non-resident professional signature collectors from all over the country to travel to Maine. These collectors’ identities are unknown; there are no requirements to register as collectors and no rules to govern their actions.

PCI Consulting paired these non-residents with what it called “Maine witnesses” or registered Maine voters. Because these “witnesses” and non-resident petitioners are not required to identify themselves, the public has no way of knowing who’s holding the petition, the hired migrant petitioner or the Maine resident. Even a sophisticated sting operation could not determine who is a resident and who is not as petitions are notarized days and weeks after collection.

The Maine Ethics Commission reports reveal the Humane Society and Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting paid PCI Consulting $179,000 of the total $229,000 spent to collect signatures.

The Humane Society’s online pre-referendum Craig’s List ad stated, “Maine requires petition circulators to be registered Maine voters. We pair you up with an expert out-of-state petitioner who loves this work so you can ‘witness’ the petitions being signed. The expert’s home states have no petition work at this time.”

Although paying Maine petitioners for signatures is distasteful, it is not illegal. The Supreme Court settled this issue in the case Meyer v. Grant, 1988, but what purpose does our Constitution serve if there is no way to enforce its provisions?

Placing an issue on the ballot is hard work, the Constitution defines who can collect and the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot.

Rep. Stanley Short, D-Pittsfield, has submitted L.D. 176, “An Act To Amend the Law Governing the Gathering of Signatures for Direct Initiatives and People’s Veto Referenda.” Short, with the guidance of the secretary of state and the attorney general, has presented an amendment to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that he believes will end this abuse by further defining solicitor of signatures and require ballot initiative coordinators to report all those paid to collect and assist with petitions.

Angelo Paparella, PCI’s president, called Short’s proposal “a cowardly way to attack the initiative process,” saying the people who sign the petitions are more important than the people who ask them to sign. He went on, “The more bureaucratic roadblocks they throw up, the more expensive the process gets and the more it gets limited to special interests.”

L.D. 176 won’t stop all the abuse, but at least it would provide some level of accountability where none currently exists.

Perhaps, instead of trying to skirt the law, collection companies would play by the rules like other organizations that have qualified for the ballot successfully.

David Trahan is executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Augusta. Email at [email protected].


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