Challengers to Oregon’s 2007 law that places restrictions on paid initiative petition signature gatherers have been rebuffed by a federal judge, who ruled such restrictions do not violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of free speech rights.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan’s ruling upholds HB 2082 from the 2007 Oregon Legislature, a measure that was one of Oregon AFSCME’s priority bills that session. HB 2082 requires paid signature gatherers to register in advance, obtain photo identification, submit a signature sample and undergo training provided by the state Elections Division. The law also bans anyone convicted of fraud, forgery or identity theft from being a paid signature-gatherer. A related law passed in 2002 bans per signature payments for initiative petition circulators in Oregon.
Keizer resident Russ Walker, head of the Oregon chapter of FreedomWorks, a right wing political organization, was one of two people who filed legal challenges to HB 2082 some two years ago. In January 2008, a Marion County judge rejected a similar case based on Oregon’s free speech laws.
“State interests in maintaining the integrity of the petition process are significant and outweigh the burden these statutory requirements to keep and submit detailed accounts place on chief petitioners,” Hogan wrote in his decision.
Council 75 Political Coordinator Joe Baessler, who lobbies election-related issues for the union, helped usher HB 2082 through the ’07 session. He said the rules created by the measure have not been a burden for legitimate operations. “The only people hampered by the restrictions in the law are people intending to break the law,” said Baessler. “For those intending to follow the law, it’s not a problem or an issue. They are required to follow wage and hour laws, not commit fraud, not copy signatures off of one sheet to another and so on. If you’re on the up-and-up, it’s not a big deal. But it’s great to have the federal court agree.”
Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, who was the Senate Majority Leader in 2007 and as such, helped shepherd HB 2082 through her chamber, issued the following statement: “These laws were absolutely necessary in restoring public confidence in the system by giving the Secretary of State the authority to crack down on fraud and abuse,” Brown said. “Judge Hogan has upheld our principles of open government, free speech and fair play.”
While the state case was not appealed, Walker’s attorney indicated his client will appeal Hogan’s decision to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.