Jumbo gov't unions hound Oregon petitioners

Tim Trickey should be proud. Petitioners for his conservative-oriented signature-gathering operation have largely qualified nine initiatives for Oregon’s November ballot, after racing to gather 1.3 million signatures months ahead of deadline — and before a stricter initiative reform took effect this month.

But now Trickey’s nemesis, a union-funded arm that focuses on ballot measures, is casting a cloud over his work, saying there’s no way all those signatures could have been gathered properly because petitioners vanished from normal Portland petitioning locales.

“There’s no physical evidence of them out there,” or at least “nothing at all commensurate with the number of signatures turned in,” said Kevin Looper, executive director of Portland-based Our Oregon.

Trickey, whose Clackamas-based Democracy Direct gathers signatures for conservatives Bill Sizemore, Kevin Mannix and Russ Walker, dismissed that notion.

His signature gatherers are purposely staying “under the radar” to avoid detection and confrontations with Our Oregon representatives, Trickey said. His petitioners also concentrated in different areas, he said, such as Southern Oregon.

Our Oregon, largely funded by public employee unions, has been locked in an ongoing war with conservate ballot-measure sponsors, who lately have dominated Oregon’s initiative system.

Our Oregon keeps a close watch on the activities and locations of petitioners, relying on tips and observations from union members and other supporters.

Trickey and other conservatives accuse Our Oregon volunteers of harassing legitimate signature gatherers.

But Our Oregon’s dogged pursuit of initiative abuse often has borne fruit. Allegations, research and lawsuits by the group and its union backers have led to fines and court rulings, including a multimillion-dollar fine against Sizemore’s operation that is still under appeal.

Last month, the Oregon Elections Division assessed steep fines against a Portland company called B & P Campaign Management and its owners for paying petitioners by the signature for 2006 ballot measures, in violation of a constitutional amendment that requires payment by the hour.

Smaller fines also were levied against Democracy Direct and Trickey, who contracted with B & P for signatures, and against Sizemore, Walker and others, whose initiative campaigns relied on those signatures.

Looper offered no proof that signatures gathered for 2008 initiatives were not gathered legally. But Our Oregon is poring over petition sheets and contemplating legal actions, or other ways to bring its charges before state authorities, he said.

John Lindback, director of the Oregon Elections Division, said several people have noticed that many signatures were gathered in 2007 without the typical petitioner presence in Portland hot spots.

“It seemed that way to a lot of people,” Lindback said, referring to folks from Our Oregon, his own elections staff and some lawmakers.

“They didn’t see much evidence, which suggests to me they’re circulating their signatures out of Portland,” Lindback said. “Maybe they’re doing it in places where they don’t think they’ll be watched and hounded by the Our Oregon people.”

The first three batches of 2008 signature sheets provided by the Elections Division do show a decline in the share of Multnomah County signatures, and a corresponding increase from Southern Oregon, when contrasted with a random sample of 2006 and 2004 ballot initiatives.

There also has been an increase in signatures gathered from largely rural counties such as Union and Umatilla.

“There are not numbers that we have seen for these counties in the past,” said Summer Davis, compliance specialist for the Elections Division. “They are different.”

However, Multnomah County still was the leading source of 2008 signatures for the first three ballot measures for which data is available. In the three measures, Multnomah County voters supplied about one-fifth of the signatures.

“We’re still seeing Multnomah County signatures and no evidence of signature gathering in Multnomah County of the level of them turning in hundreds of thousands of signatures,” Looper said.


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