There’s an interesting write-up of one of the more hard-hitting ads we’ve seen here in Colorado so far this election cycle in Friday’s Rocky Mountain News. This piece hits on a point I think others have missed in the discussion of this issue over the past couple weeks: whatever the particular wording or tactics being used here, this ad raises a genuine concern about the ballot initiative process we should be paying attention to it and probably urging our legislators to do something about.
At issue is the ad by a group called Protect Colorado’s Future on the process used by the backers of Amendment 47 and initiatives 53 and 59 to get their measures on the ballot. According to local news reports, the backers of these particular measures hired a number of companies to circulate their petitions for them. Apparently that’s pretty standard practice, but what’s concerning about this is it was subsequently discovered these companies have hired folks with lengthy criminal records to hit the streets and collect the signatures. It sounds bad, but when you look at the list of crimes they’re associated with – assault, forgery, fraud and sexual assault on a child – it’s even worse.
The Protect Colorado’s Future ad makes the connection between these criminals and initiatives 53 and 59, as well as Amendment 47, which are union-busting measures slowly inching their way toward Colorado’s ballot. The ad might be a “heavy-duty mudslinger,” but as Raj Chohan points out in his truth test:
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.
Disturbing. So why aren’t the various groups who hire these companies every election cycle insisting they conduct background checks on the people they hire? And why aren’t the companies themselves (identified as Kennedy Enterprises, Lamm Consulting, and National Ballot Access in Raj Chohan’s report) taking simple, preemptive action steps to protect themselves against these sort of attacks? It doesn’t make much sense. Are they just too lazy? Too cheap? Too unconcerned by the fact that multiple local news outlets have now uncovered the fact they use people with criminal records to go out and collect people’s personal information? It seems that they’re willing to do it by whatever means necessary as long as they get the number of signatures they need.
Say what you will about the need for decent jobs that ex-cons can do to get their lives back on track – I wholeheartedly agree. I just don’t think one of them should be a position that involves collecting a long list of names, addresses, and signatures and involves face-to-face contact with citizens that can be identified as an easy target for identity theft, robbery, assault, and the like. They know what I look like and where I live, they have a copy of my signature, and a history of arrests or convictions for violent crimes and even felonies. What’s to stop one of these folks looking me up and down to see I’m an attractive young woman, or a mother with small children or an elderly person who might be easy to take advantage of, then taking down my name and address and following me home to see if it looks like an easy place to break into and whether I live alone? How difficult would it be for them to swipe a new ATM card from my mailbox or open a new account in my name? Thinking about what could potentially happen next after that initial contact at the grocery store raises the hair on the back of my neck.
Here in Colorado, the legislature attempted to take action on this problem, but nothing has yet come of it. I don’t know if this has come up in other states, but I sincerely hope if you are approached by a petition circulator this election cycle, you take a moment to ask them if they work on behalf of Kennedy Enterprises, Lamm Consulting or National Ballot Access. If they do, you might take a moment to consider their seeming lack of concern for public safety before signing and take a minute to ask the petition circulator if they had to pass a background check. Until these companies start acting responsibly, it’s up to the voters to protect themselves.