Unions sling mud against worker-choice

Will say and do anything to protect dues flow from forced-labor unionism

The pro-union group Protect Colorado's Future has launched a heavy-duty mudslinger aimed at the backers of anti-union Amendments 47, 53 and 59. Instead of arguing the merits, this ad criticizes the signature-gathering effort used to get the measures onto the ballot. While there is a lot of spin in this commercial, there is also an interesting underlying point that may be more important than the ad itself.

Ad: How far will the backers of Amendment 47, Amendment 53 and 59 go? Too far. First we found out their efforts have been described as fraudulent, and deceptive.

Visually, the ad shows still pictures of three key backers of these amendments. The photos include Republican state senator Nancy Spence and the Independence Institute's Jon Caldara. Both support Amendment 53, which would bar unions from collecting dues via automatic payroll deductions from public employees. Caldara also supports Amendment 59, which would limit political contributions by government contractors. Also pictured is Aurora city councilman Ryan Frazier, who backs right-to-work Amendment 47.

Here's the spin. The ad implies PCF found out about these claims from newspaper reports. In fact, PCF initiated its own investigation, filed complaints with the Colorado Secretary of State, and held a press conference to promote its findings. Newspapers covered the press conference. It is a common tactic used in political ads to make viewers think the claims have been vetted by a neutral third party because they appeared in a newspaper. It's a misleading tactic aimed at masking the original source of the claim.

While PCF mobilized a massive signature analysis effort and uncovered what it believes are tens of thousands of invalid signatures, enough to mount a court challenge to the certification of Amendment 47, the potential for petition circulators to misconstrue or fail to correctly explain the ballot initiatives to fellow citizens remains high.

Conservative blog Face The State conducted its own sting on at least one petition circulator employed by PCF's signature gathering company Field Works. The circulator appeared to provide misleading information while gathering signatures in support of initiative 82 - the pro-affirmative action measure that would cancel out a competing anti-affirmative action measure. Jess Knox of PCF acknowledged that the Field Works circulator had violated company policy and was fired.

Ad: But now we found out their campaigns hired criminals to get their measures on the ballot, criminals who've committed fraud, assault, forgery, even a criminal who is a registered sex offender

The claim appears to be true. Often groups that want to get an initiative on the ballot will hire private companies to gather signatures. Those private companies are not required by Colorado law to do criminal background checks on their signature gatherers and many don't. Consequently, felons, even sex offenders, are able to find employment as subcontractors for companies that specialize in gathering signatures for ballot initiatives.

Ad: Maybe they think it's OK for criminals to get our personal information, if it helps move their agenda.

Again, this is spin. The groups trying to get initiatives on the ballot don't intentionally hire felons to gather signatures. There is a small group of companies that do this kind of work. Most do not perform criminal background checks. In previous election cycles, ballot initiative drives backed by conservatives, progressives, unions, and business interests have all hired some of these companies.

But it's not the whole story. The group behind this ad makes an excellent point in one respect. Groups that hire companies to gather signatures certainly have the power to do something about the lack of background checks. They can insist that companies screen their subcontractors for past criminal conduct and bar felons from collecting signatures. It is of course a more expensive option.

But maybe it's worth it. After all, signature gatherers are collecting names and addresses, as well as making personal contact with people they might identify as potentially vulnerable during face-to-face encounters. It's not hard to imagine a scenario in which a signature gatherer who is a convicted sex offender discovers that a petition signer is disabled, vulnerable, and lives alone.

The Colorado legislature passed a bill that would have barred those convicted of certain felonies, including sex offenses, from working as petition circulators. Gov. Bill Ritter vetoed the bill, saying he didn't think the measure would pass state or federal constitutional muster because it treated paid petition circulators differently than volunteer circulators.

Jess Knox of Protect Colorado's Future said his group requires its signature-gathering company to conduct criminal background checks on all of its petition circulators. Knox acknowledged his group decided to pursue this route after seeing some of the problems emerge with signature gatherers connected to the Amendment 47 petition drive.

Now that his group has made background checks a political issue, perhaps other groups will require them if for no other reason than to head off the next attack ad. Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute said his organization may consider background checks in future petition drives.


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