Ads on the radio waves in Colorado Springs are encouraging voters to avoid signing petitions to qualify initiatives for the ballot, saying the petition information could be used in identity theft.
“It’s ironic,” said Jon Caldara, president of free-market Independence Institute. “They’re using their First Amendment rights to scare you away from using your First Amendment rights.”
The ads are funded by an independent spending group that recently aired radio ads supporting Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton in a four-way primary.
They don’t mention a specific initiative. Signatures for a proposed tax hike to pay for education were turned in last week. Other issues for which various organizers are seeking signatures include a 2,500-foot setback on oil and gas development, regulation of payday lenders, increased compensation for when the government reduces property value, healthcare billing transparency, and the Independence Institute’s “Fix Our Damn Roads” transportation bonding plan.
“I would hate for Fix our Damn Roads to get caught up in the collateral of it,” Caldara said.
One of the two ads features El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller.
“They’re at it again,” Waller says. “Standing on street corners, in front of grocery stores asking you to give away your personal information to sign their political petition. Hi, I’m Commissioner Mark Waller asking you to think twice before you sign.
“Many signature collectors are funded by out of state special interests, and they’re pushing a political agenda that is never as good as it sounds. And when you sign your name, all your information is in a public database accessible on the internet. Before you sign one of those petitions, ask the tough questions.”
The ad concludes by saying it was paid for by the Better Jobs Coalition.
That statewide independent spending group is operated by candy maker Rick Enstrom, a Republican who once ran for state House. Waller said former GOP House Speaker Frank McNulty, now a consultant, asked him to do the ad.
Calls and a direct Tweet to Enstrom weren’t returned.
McNulty said Better Jobs Coalition opposes outside groups that use Colorado’s initiative system to test proposals they then use elsewhere.
“The folks in the coalition were tired of Colorado being treated like a Petri dish on all these ballot initiatives that come forward,” he said, adding the coalition is conducting a “general fundraising effort” to pay for the ads.
Waller said he believes that information gathered on initiative petitions ends up online. “I think that data gets transferred, sold and ends up in all sorts of different places,” he said.
Signatures are turned in to the Secretary of State’s office for verification, but the office doesn’t put them on the Internet.
“We don’t post those online,” said Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert. “They are public record. If people want to come in and scan them into their own system, they can do that.”
Enstrom has recently tweeted sarcastically about petition gatherers, who must be approved by the Secretary of State and comply with state regulations.
Be sure to sign petitions at grocery stores presented by folks you don’t know, with two sentence explanations.
It’s your civic duty! #copolitics
— Rick Enstrom (@rickenstrom) July 13, 2018
Going to the grocery to pick up a few things. And to give a bunch of my personal information to some sketchy dude who gets paid per signature, going to God knows where. #copolitics
— Rick Enstrom (@rickenstrom) July 14, 2018
While signatures on voter registration aren’t public, the petition signatures are.
“You have a right to challenge a petition. How do you do it if you can’t see the signatures?” she asked.
Staiert said the office is concerned about the signatures becoming public. This year, when outside groups want copies of petitions to examine signatures, the office is offering digital copies and requiring groups to say they won’t post the copies online.
That doesn’t prevent groups from taking their own photos of the petitions and posting them, though.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen somebody post an entire petition,” Staiert said.
Neither Caldara nor Caroline Fry of Common Cause said they’d ever seen anyone post entire petitions online.
“I know that the Secretary of State has done a lot of excellent work on election security,” Fry said. “I have never heard of a campaign that is directed from an elected official saying ‘do not sign’ … to put an initiative on the ballot.’”
Although the radio ad dissuades voters from signing any petitions, Waller told The Independent that people should make sure they’re informed before signing one.
“It’s saying be educated before you sign one of these petitions,” he said. “You need to know what you’re signing.”
Both Fry and Caldara questioned the motivation behind the ads. Fry said it’s odd that the ads don’t mention specific initiatives, such as those opposed or supported by the oil-and-gas industry.
“Why was it paid for by a super PAC?” Fry asked. “That does not make any sense.”
Asked Caldara: “What industry is scared of what? The information that is on that petition form is already public” via voter registration data.
“None of the information is private. This is a scare tactic,” Caldara said. “What it says is, don’t exercise your First Amendment rights. In a democracy, what a weird thing to be saying.”