ViewpointThe incompetent Las Vegas petition circulators are out. Coming soon to a mall parking lot or a gas station near you will be newly hired signature gatherers from a Michigan-based company, which pledges to dip into their firm's pockets if necessary to assure sufficient valid signatures are gathered on their projects. And the latest project for National Petition Management Inc. of Brighton will be to collect 252,523 valid petition signatures by June 1, 2016, in Effort No. II aimed at overturning Michigan's Prevailing Wage Act of 1965.
Effort No. I, of course, was a grossly mismanaged effort sponsored by Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, a front group for the Associated Builders and Contractors-Michigan and deep-pocketed donors including the DeVos family of Grand Rapids. They paid $1.1 million for Las Vegas-based Silver Bullet, Inc. to conduct a petition drive last summer and fall across Michigan, turning over more than 390,000 signatures to the state Board of Canvassers for approval - but they didn't approve.
Reportedly paid $5 per signature, the petition gatherers earned their keep by turning in signatures of about 123,000 non-registered voters. Also found were 50,000 duplicate signatures, including 18,767 people who signed twice, 2,684 people who signed three times, and 588 people who signed four times. In the end, 43 percent of the 390,000 repeal signatures submitted to the state Board of Canvassers were invalid. Allegations of potential fraud charges and a lawsuit may follow.
All that is water under the bridge, according to Chris Fisher, the vice president of Protecting Michigan Taxpayers and president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan. Backed by billionaires, Fisher told MLive that the only thing that changes with this month's rebooting of the petition drive is the hiring of National Petition Management.
"We're dealing with the same Legislature, the same issue, the same House and Senate leadership, the same people that support or oppose it and the same petition language," Fisher told MLive. "The only thing different is the vendor for the validation."
National Petition Management's website brags that it guarantees its work with "an unparalleled track record of 100%." Adding, "NPM is known for its uncompromising quality and attention to detail. Senior consultants are assigned to each project and our on-site, hands-on management means that your project gets the professional attention it deserves. We are experienced and professional, with the skills, expertise and integrity to qualify your issue.
"At NPM we are so sure of the quality of our work that we guarantee it. If your percentage of valid signatures falls below our contracted rate we’ll make up the difference - at our own expense." That sounds like a company that will do what is has to do in order to maintain its 100 percent success rate. And Michigan's petition-gathering law doesn't place many restrictions on what groups and companies say or do in order to get people to sign.
Eric Lupher, president of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, pointed out Michigan's woefully inadequate laws governing petition-gathering in an op-ed last month.
"As with this prevailing wage repeal effort," he wrote, "allegations of paid petition circulators telling potential petition signers whatever was necessary to get signatures also arose with the recent effort to ban the use of affirmative action practices. Other states prohibit paying circulators on a per signature basis; require circulators to undergo training and abide by certain standards; and take measures to identify paid petition circulators differently than volunteer circulators."
This reporter was approached outside of a gas station last summer by a petition taker who said that she didn't know anything about the prevailing wage law, but that my signature would raise construction workers' wages in Michigan. "How can it raise wages when it repeals the state prevailing wage law?" she was asked. She responded that it wouldn't repeal prevailing wage, but signing would raise wages and put more people to work.
Together we read the language at the top of the petition, which says the document is "an initiation of legislation to repeal 1965 PA 165, 'An act to require prevailing wages and fringe benefits on state projects....' " Duly informed, she then walked away to mis-inform someone else in her effort to get signatures.
Lupher said Michigan "is an exception among the states because it allows proponents to put petitions in the field before addressing potentially controversial issues...." Among those issues are validating the petition forms before circulation begins (allowing validation arguments pro and con beforehand and not at the 11th hour) and having the state disseminate information describing what the petition will do (beyond the legalistic 100-word explanation on the petition form itself).
The Michigan Legislature is unlikely to address changes in the state's petition law anytime soon, not that it would affect this second version of petition collection for prevailing wage repeal.
We've explained in the past what happens if the ABC/Protect Michigan Taxpayers collects those 252,523 petition signatures by June 1. If the petition signatures are certified under the state Constitution, the prevailing wage repeal question then goes before the state Legislature for a vote. Gov. Rick Snyder, who would likely veto prevailing wage repeal, doesn't have a say in the matter under the petition scenario. The matter may already be settled in the Michigan Senate, which earlier this year voted to repeal prevailing wage. In the state House, the vote would be expected to be much closer, and the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and its affiliated unions have been urging their membership for months to contact their lawmaker to vote against prevailing wage repeal.