Pension Signature Drive Spent $1 Million?!?

Erica Holloway Erica Holloway 10 Comments


Pushers of the Comprehensive Pension Reform initiative breathed a big, expensive sigh of relief today.

The proponents turned in 145,000 signatures today to the City Clerk’s Office, according to Craig Gustafson at the San Diego-Union Tribune, for a needed 94,346.

What’s in Gustafson’s story that made my eyes pop and in a related estimate from Voice of San Diego’s Liam Dillon – that the measure could have cost more than $1 million so far. That astounding figure was attributed to Councilman Carl DeMaio and Lincoln Club President T.J. Zane, a major backer of the effort.

Holy ca-ching!

Alluding to, but not directly stating outright, Gustafson noted that the measure faced serious opposition at store fronts by those wishing to preserve the current pension system which led the campaign to resort to sending 2,500 volunteers door-to-door in San Diego to meet the valid signature requirement.

That labor-intensive move, combined with a third-party independent analysis to fish out 25,000 duplicates and bad signatures, got the job done.

While they may be successful, it certainly leaves us consultants seriously contemplating the future of ballot initiatives.

Are we doomed to fail without such deep pockets on measures with heavy opposition? Is third-party verification the way of the future? What about hourly-paid signature gatherers? Would that costing less? Are there better public places to get valid signatures? Are these costly measures the only recourse to blocking?

Last night, while chatting a bit with an opponent of the measure, he said he expected it to qualify but his solace was knowing he helped drained the proponents’ coffers.

Turnabout is fair play.

– Follow me @erica_holloway.


Comments 10

  1. Would love to know, at some point when all is said and done, Percentage of sigs gathered at storefronts and how many at the front door of registered voters. Blocking pretty hard (and problematic legally) if collective door to door.

  2. Post

    Hi Erik:

    Great thoughts.

    I’ve been curious about that data as well and it’s certainly an interesting case study on signature gathering tactics.



  3. FYI, “per hour” pay would have been the death knell for all petitions props in CA. Plus, “per hour” converts these independent contractor petitioners into employees, with all the attendant costs and regulations to deal with. For instance, how to petition backers provide documentation for work breaks and lunch time?

    Without the per sig incentive system, there is no way any petition props would be put before the voters. Only politician-voted props would face us come election day, and we know what kind of props they would be.

  4. Anyone SD city residents get that labor union post card this week warning those who already signed the CPR petition that their identity might be stolen — urging them to write a letter to the City Clerk withdrawing their signature support for the CPR prop? I’m gonna get a scan of one of those jewels.

  5. Irony would be if all these hard working petitioners found out there was $1 million spent on this, became unhappy with the pay they received for their efforts, and as a result decide to bargain collectively. . The Petition Signature Gatherers Union!

  6. Post

    Dear Richard:

    I would expect it to be more costly up front, but perhaps a well-trained staff could become more expert at getting around or dealing with some of the obstacles.

    Dear Michael:

    I doubt that being the case since there was such a high number of bad signatures, which was the reason for such extreme measures. Whatever they received for the signatures was a record price.



  7. Here is a PDF of Lorena Gonzalez’ EPIC FAIL “take your signature back” mailer which landed in mailboxes THE DAY the CPR campaign turned in the signatures, effectively making that mailer moot. Haha.

  8. As someone who has collected signatures for pay from state to state and all over California and have some extensive petitioning in San Diego, San Diego is one of the hardest places to collect signatures. San Diego has had a City petition of one issue or another on the street for almost a year straight and this came after the 2010 statewide petition cycle. What eventually happens is signature gatherers will gravitate toward San Diego because they have one or two extra petitions which means extra money. Consequently the public is barraged with initiatives on a continual basis and literally quit signing. Consider the Pension Reform, Marijuana Referendum, Wal Mart Referendum, Fair Contracting, School Board Reform and last year Contracting Reform and that is literally a cumulative 500,000 signatures not counting the Americans Elect petition, Amazon tax referendum and other statewide initiatives. Even the group asking to repeal gay marriage out there and Greenpeace, with panhandlers in a down economy asking for spare change makes you wonder why anyone would even sign. And on top of that blockers and the worst was the radio commercials. Those seared in the minds to never-ever sign a petition again. If Carl Demaio didn’t put his face on this issue and take over the reigns it would have failed just like the school board reform petition.

    Having said all that, proponents should take control of THEIR issue from coordinators and circulators. The proponents should require circulators to meet with individuals of the campaigns to make clear what talking points will be acceptable and what behavior and appearance is acceptable and who is acceptable. Just like any product if their is no quality control the product will suffer. Also the public should be assured what side they are coming from. Just saying Carl Demaio’s Pension Reform was all that was needed. Many people will say they will not sign unless they know who is behind it. Many people have been duped before and don’t want to be fooled again. Having tighter control of the campaign will save money and will finish in a more timely manner.

    Congratulations to Carl Demaio and those who worked on the campaign.

  9. A million+ leaves me scratching my head Erica. The thought that it takes over a million dollars in donations and what was seemingly an endless barrage of media, social media, mailers and public appearances by seated elected officials to just get this on the ballot for a vote makes me wonder just how important of an issue it is to the typical San Diegan. In any event, thanks for reporting on both sides of what is bound to be one of the most important and most expensive votes San Diego has ever taken.

  10. Post

    Dear Tony:

    Thank you for sharing.

    Dear SD123:

    No question petition initiatives seem to constantly be circulating and for gatherers, it’s advantageous to double or triple up on circulating. That certainly hurts success and waters down concentration on one initiative to the detriment of others. Proponents must take a greater role in leadership and not count to such a heavy degree on consultants and gatherers.

    Dear MarkC,

    The amount does boggle the mind. I have to wonder of financial drowning out of opposition is the only path, especially as SD123 states, signers are at a saturation point.

    Best, Erica

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