Ballotpedia:WikiProject State Ballot Measures/Petition signature costs

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Petition signature costs is a sub-project of Ballotpedia:WikiProject State Ballot Measures. The purpose of the project is to compare-and-contrast signature-collection costs based on the Cost Per Required Signature (CPRS).

Signature costs

This project analyzes the costs of collecting petition signatures for citizen initiatives. The current goal of this project is to finish the research for 2012, which will be reflected in the article, 2012 ballot measure petition signature costs. 17 states had citizen initiatives on their 2012 ballot, and the research has already been finished for California.

Research procedure

  • Visit each state campaign finance database.
  • Locate the area of the database that reflects campaign finance activity for a particular initiative.
  • If there is more than one campaign committee that supported the measure, figure out which committee paid for the signatures. In most cases, there is one primary donor group. In others, there are several; however, generally the cost is paid for by just one of the campaign committees. In the case of multiple campaign committees, if you can figure out which campaign committee is the oldest committee (that is, the first one to register as a campaign finance committee with the state government) that would normally be the committee that paid for the signatures.
  • In nearly every state, campaign finance committees must disclose both their larger donors and their larger vendors, by name. It is by scrutinizing the list of larger campaign vendors (i.e., people and organizations to which the campaign committee paid money) that you'll be able to identify which vendor the campaign committee used to collect their signatures. These vendors are collectively known as petition drive management companies. Ballotpedia has a comprehensive list of the active companies here; however, the list needs updating and it is always possible that a new petition drive management company has formed and we don't have an article about that company yet. It is also possible that an older company we do have an article about is operating under a different name than it used to operate under.
  • If you are looking over a campaign committee's list of vendors/expenditures, and it is not clear to you which vendor/expenditure relates to costs paid to obtain signatures, here are some hints:
  • Expenditures to petition drive management companies will nearly always be reflected in the earliest campaign committee finance filings. That is because, except for money spent on attorneys to draft their measure (if the sponsors did spend money on this), the sponsors of the initiative would have spent money to pay for signatures before they spent money on virtually anything else.
  • Expenditures to petition drive management companies will nearly always have been completed on or around the time of that year's petition drive deadlines, so it is the campaign finance filings from on or before that deadline that are the ones you need to particularly review.
  • If you are looking at a campaign committee's campaign finance filings from on or before the time of the relevant petition drive deadline, and you are seeing some very large expenses (upwards of $20,000) to vendors, these vendors are probably their petition drive management company, even if the name is not one you recognize from reviewing our list of petition drive management companies.
  • Next, identify the total amount paid to the signature company. You may need to look at multiple campaign finance filings to get the total paid. In some states, the state government auto-adds the total amount paid to vendors over more than one campaign finance report. However, in most states, they don't, and you have to pull up every campaign finance report, jot down the payments it reflects to that vendor, and then repeat this procedure for every other campaign finance report filed by that organization. Note that sometimes, the sponsor of an initiative will hire more than one petition drive management company. This, however, is very rare.
  • Add the signature company name and total spent on signatures to the chart.
    • List signature numbers should be the state requirement for that particular year. (All state requirements can be found here: Signature requirements)
  • To identify the CPRS (Cost Per Required Signature), divide the total spent by the number of required signatures.

(Example:2010 ballot measure petition signature costs)

Multi-year research

Note that in some states (Alaska, Florida and Maine come to mind), you might have to look at campaign finance reports going back several years to figure out how much the signatures cost. This is because in those states, initiative sponsors have a multi-year window in which to collect the required number of signatures.

Research difficulties

You may encounter some difficulties in researching this information in your assigned state(s). Difficulties can arise if:

  • It turns out that in a state you're assigned, the campaign reports do not disclose vendors/expenditures, and only disclose donors.
  • In a state you're assigned, expenditures/vendors are disclosed, but the nature of the expense is not disclosed and it is impossible to infer from the context that a particular vendor was being paid for signatures. (In many states, even if the reporting laws do not require campaign committees to report the nature of a particular expense (as in "TV ad buy", "signature collection costs" or "legal fees"), you can still tell how much the signatures cost because of the name of the vendor who received the money, if it is a recognizable petition drive management company.)
  • You're looking at a list of vendors/expenditures, and you see only a list of individuals to whom large amounts appear to have been paid in the pre-deadline period. However, there is no disclosure of the nature of the expenses and no recognizable petition drive management firms are in the list. In states like this, you're not going to be able to determine how much the signatures cost. You might reasonably infer that these individuals received this money to collect signatures, since they received the money in the pre-deadline period, but you can't know that for sure, since one or more of them might have received payments for services other than signature collection, such as early-season polling, legal work, etc.

If these difficulties, or other difficulties, arise, your first step would be to consult with the Ballot Measure Project Manager to see if there might be a way to solve the problem. If there isn't, the final step should be to record on this page, in the section for that state, a precise and detailed explanation of why, for that state, it has proven to be impossible to definitively know how much was spent on signatures for the initiatives that qualified for the ballot that year, in that state.

Other subprojects


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This page is part of WikiProject State Ballot Measures, a WikiProject including articles about:

To participate: join (or just read up) at the project page.


Ballotpedia's Ballot Measures project is managed by Brittany Clingen.

If you have any questions or comments please e-mail brittany.clingen@ballotpedia.org.