Lee was selling roofs in Huntington Beach, California, in 1987 when he saw an ad for paid circulators. His career in petition drives began then. In short order, he became a crew chief for Kimball Petition Management.]
Lee later started his own petition drive management company in 1997. A profile in an Arizona newspaper in 2003 referred to him as the "Petition King." They wrote, "Lee has been the central player in gathering signatures for initiatives and candidates in every major election. He has also branched out into other states, maintaining a network of people willing to travel from place to place to hustle signatures for the issue of the day...Lee has run about 200 petition drives, he said. His biggest year was 2000, when he delivered almost 2.5 million signatures in 22 states, he said. Last year, Lee helped deliver signatures for Proposition 202, the Indian gaming initiative sponsored by a coalition of 17 Arizona tribes."
Bob Grossfeld, an Arizona political consultant, told the Phoenix New Times in 2000 that Lee's influence in Arizona politics was very significant: "Derrick Lee may in fact be the most influential person in Arizona politics -- elected, unelected, it doesn't matter. Because at this moment in time, he is the only one available to go out and collect the massive amounts of signatures to put something on the ballot."