California Senate Bill 168 (2011)

From Ballotpedia
Jump to: navigation, search
California Senate Bill 168 (2011)
Flag of California.png
Legislature:California State Senate
Text:As enrolled
Legislative History
Introduced:February 3, 2011
State house:July 14, 2011
Vote (lower house):Y48, N28
State senate:May 9, 2011
Vote (upper house):Y23, N15
Governor:Jerry Brown (D)
Vetoed:August 1, 2011
Legal Environment
State law:Laws governing the initiative
process in California
Code:Elections code
Impact on initiative rights
Citizens in Charge Foundation#Legislation ratingsCICF rating:
Reduces Access
Citizens in Charge Foundation#Legislation ratings
California Senate Bill 168 is a 2011 California bill that would have banned pay-per-signature for petition circulators. Governor Jerry Brown (D) vetoed the bill on August 1, 2011.[1] The bill was sponsored in the California State Senate by Ellen Corbett (D).[2] The Citizens in Charge Foundation strongly opposed the bill along with other groups that oppose restrictions on the initiative process such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Humane Society of the United States.[3]

In Gov. Brown's veto message, he said, ""This is a dramatic change to a long-established democratic process in California. I am not persuaded that the unintended consequences won't be worse than the abuses the bill aims to prevent."[4]


The specific provisions of Senate Bill 168 are as follows:[5]

  • Makes it unlawful for a person to pay or to receive money or any other thing of value based on the number of signatures obtained on a state or local initiative, referendum, or recall petition.
  • Provides that a violation of the bill is a misdemeanor subject to the following penalties:
a) For a person or organization that pays someone based on the number of signatures collected, a fine of up to $25,000 and/or imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year; and,
b) For a person paid based on the number of signatures collected, a fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment in a county jail for up to six months.
  • Provides that nothing in the bill prohibits the payment for signature gathering that is not based, either directly or indirectly, on the number of signatures collected on a petition.


  • The Senate bill analysis summarizes the arguments in favor of the bill as follows: "Supporters of this bill contend that paying signature gatherers on a per-signature basis encourages fraud, because a circulator who collects more signatures will earn more, and is more likely to forge signatures or misrepresent the content of a petition in order to encourage people to sign."[6]
  • According to Senator Corbett (Sponsor of SB 168), "Some signature gathering firms compensate circulators based on the number of signatures they collect. Some circulators reach the deadline to qualify initiatives by illegally misinforming voters and forging names. Others have forged signatures onto their petitions by copying names they chose from a phonebook. Lastly, some have inserted carbon paper and a second petition behind the original one in order to collect signatures."[6]


  • The Senate bill analysis summarizes the arguments against the bill as follows: "Opponents of this bill contend that outlawing payment for signature collection on a per signature basis will 'make it prohibitively expensive to do an initiative or a recall and next to impossible to do a referendum,' and argue that there is little evidence that per-signature payment methods are more prone to fraud than other methods."[6]
  • The House bill analysis adds: "A coalition of associations representing business interests, including the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Apartment Association, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, argues that the bill will limit the public's role in the initiative process and "would make it prohibitively expensive to do an initiative or a recall and next to impossible to do a referendum." The Humane Society of the United States expresses a similar concern."[7]
  • The supporters of SB 168 suggest that the bill is needed to combat fraud in the petition process. Yet, there is little evidence of fraud and absolutely no evidence that paying circulators “per signature” does anything to induce fraud or that laws which ban it do anything at all to mitigate fraud.
  • Even if California had a serious problem with petition fraud, and obviously any fraud is too much, banning petition sponsors from paying circulators by the signature will do nothing to address the problem. Last year, in a lawsuit challenging a Colorado law similar to SB 168 (though far less severe), U.S. District Court Judge Philip Brimmer wrote in his order blocking enforcement of the law that, “pay-per-signature compensation is no more likely than pay-per-hour compensation to induce fraudulent signature gathering or to increase invalidity rates.”
  • Passage of SB 168 is likely to lead to costly litigation that California can ill afford especially in the midst of the budget crisis. Challenges to bans on per signature payment of petition circulators are currently underway in Colorado, Nebraska and Oregon. While the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld such a ban in an Oregon case, similar bans have been enjoined or overturned in Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Ohio and Washington. As recently as 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Ohio’s Secretary of State in Citizens for Tax Reform v. Deters, effectively affirming the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to strike that state’s ban on pay-per-signature.
  • Grassroots groups hoping to place a reform on the state ballot without the ability to pay their workers by the signature could face costs that are significantly higher – in some cases as much as double. While SB 168 may not deter the state’s most powerful or wealthy special interests, the higher costs will block the participation of grassroots groups and those less well-to-do.
  • The original analysis on this legislation referred to people who circulate petitions as “bounty hunters.” That language serves to demean an entire group of overwhelmingly honest and hardworking citizens. It shows hostility to this process that is constitutionally protected. The term commonly, and more respectfully, used for these campaign workers is “petition circulator."


The California State Senate bill analysis details cases relevant to Senate Bill 168:[6]

  • "In 1999, the United States Supreme Court examined a Colorado law that imposed a number of restrictions on the signature collection process for ballot initiatives. In that case the court ruled that there must be a compelling state interest to justify any restrictions on initiative petition circulation. Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation (1999), 525 U.S. 182."
  • "Although the United States Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of prohibiting payment for signature collection on a per-signature basis, a number of federal courts have considered challenges to such laws, with the courts reaching different conclusions. Federal appellate courts in the Second, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits upheld laws that prohibited payments for signature collection on election petitions on a per-signature basis, while the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a similar law in Ohio. Additionally, a number of federal district courts have struck down bans on per-signature payments in other states. In light of the differing opinions reached by various federal courts on the constitutionality of laws that prohibit payments on a per-signature basis for signature gathering on petitions, it is unclear whether a court challenge to this bill, if enacted, would be successful."


Senate Bill 168 is identical to Senate Bill 34, proposed by Corbett in 2009. Then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (D) vetoed the bill. Schwarzenegger argued that the prohibition on pay-per-signature could "make it more difficult for grassroots organizations to gather the necessary signatures and qualify measures for the ballot."[9]