Likely the most flagrantly inept and shady petition drive in Michigan history was declared invalid in 2015 after scrutiny by the state Board of Canvassers. They found that of the 390,000 signatures that were gathered that summer during the petition drive to repeal the state's prevailing wage law, 161,781 names were found to be invalid.
With a bounty of $5 per signature, petition gatherers basically said anything to get people to sign: that it was a tax cut, that it would increase wages for workers, or that it would bring more money for schools. And if they couldn't get others to sign the forms, the hired petitioners signed the documents themselves, or had others help. There were more than 50,000 duplicate signatures submitted to the state. Michigan Director of Elections Christopher Thomas called the petitions "disturbing." Thomas said the petition gathering company "clearly failed to put circulators in the field who complied" with statutory duties.
"The law was broken at a level never seen by the state Board of Canvassers," said Patrick "Shorty" Gleason, legislative director for the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "There were 160,000 fraudulent names on a legal document submitted to the state, and there's no legal investigation? There's no prosecutors looking at this? Nobody goes to jail? I am screaming mad that nothing has come of this fraud."
The fraud was only uncovered because the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, through its Protect Michigan Jobs coalition, hired legal help to scrutinize the petitions. To date, no one has been prosecuted for the submittal of the illegal signatures.
As a comparison, four campaign staffers for former U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Livonia) were tried and convicted in 2013, accused of cutting and pasting the names and signatures of voters who signed petitions during prior elections into petitions for the 2012 race. McCotter was unable to run for Congress because of the fake signatures. In the McCotter case, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette brought the charges against those staffers, but so far, he has brought no legal action in a case with obvious similarities. A spokeswoman for Schuette's office did not return our phone call requesting comment.
Protect Michigan Taxpayers, the front group for the Associated Builders and Contractors, hired Las Vegas-based Silver Bullet LLC to collect the signatures for the petition drive in 2015. In a civil lawsuit filed in Ingham County Circuit Court, court documents filed by Protect Michigan Taxpayers said in addition to the $1.35 million it paid to Silver Bullet, "at least an additional $500,000 was spent in connection with the campaign," and a "substantial portion of this investment in legal fees, printing costs, administrative costs and other out-of-pocket expenses will have to be duplicated as part of a new petition drive." The case was settled out of court several months later, with the terms of the settlement not disclosed.
"This constant focus by the ABC on eliminating the state's prevailing wage law is disturbing and galling," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and a co-chair of Protect Michigan Jobs. "Protect Michigan Taxpayers should be investigated to determine the role of its leaders in managing the campaign and submitting invalid signatures. It is vital that those charged with enforcing state election laws determine what leaders of this organization knew about the petition collection process and when they learned that they had faulty signatures."