Friday, June 20, 2008

Petition Law Perplexity

So, I've been trying to follow the petition procedure of the REJECT HB545 group, who want to prevent the Payday Lending reform law from going into effect. When I wrote about it earlier this week, I briefly mentioned that the wording of the petition needed to be fixed by yesterday, which I followed up with "(?!?)" to indicate that that certainly sounded strange, but that's what it looked like Siegel was saying in the Dispatch.

Well, AG Rogers rejected the summary language for the referendum, and there were no ringing headlines about the campaign being over, so I started trying to figure out what in the heck this Thursday deadline had been referring to.

As near as I can tell, it was referring to the final deadline in a process that involves turning in signatures to the SOS, who is tasked with confirming both that the full text of the law on the initial petitions matches the text signed by the Governor, and that the initial set of signatures are valid. The petitioners must then provide the AG a copy of the full text and summary text of the law that will be used during the referendum campaign, by the end of the first business day following the receipt of the signatures by the SOS. The AG then has ten days to review these documents, and certify that the summary is a fair and accurate representation of the full text. This appears to be the deadline that came up yesterday.

Other deadlines involved in the process include a 90-day-from-date-law-filed-with-SOS-by-Governor window in which opponents can collect signatures, which, if successfully collected and filed, will prevent the law from going into effect unless it is approved as a result of the next regular or general election that occurs more than 60 days after the petitions are filed. It has also been widely reported that the deadline for ballot access is 90 days prior to the election (with current proposals being debated that would increase that to 125 days). 90 days post-law-filing is Aug. 31, 90 days prior to election is Aug. 4, and the first general election more than 60 days after Aug. 31 is November 4.

So now, if the Payday Lending Community revises their summary language today, where in the process are they? Do they have to refile with SOS Brunner, even though she has certified the signatures and the full text already? If not, how long does AG Rogers have to renew the revised language? Is it the same ten days that she had to review the first version? If so, there would be no incentive for her to render a decision prior to June 30. At which point the Payday Lenders would have a short time to collect 241k signatures. How short of a time? Well, if they had the signatures ready to file in 35 days, they would beat the August 4 deadline, and there is absolutely no question that they would have their referendum on the November ballot (assuming that they had the valid number and distribution of signatures). If they were to take 62 days to collect the signatures, they would temporarily stop the law from going into effect by beating the Aug. 31 deadline. At that point, however, I'm utterly confused. The law would not go into effect unless approved by voters in the next general or regular election occurring at least 60 days from the filing. In this case, that would seem to be November 4. Because the Aug. 4 deadline will have already passed, however, the measure cannot actually appear on the ballot for the Nov. 4 election, and will obviously, therefore, not be approved in that election. Meaning the law will never go into effect??? Is it a complete coincidence that HB545 was passed during the 30 day window in which this limbo state is possible??

Any help is much appreciated.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Payday Lenders Hail Mary Petition Drive

I've had a few people ask me about the petition drive to get a referendum repealing the payday lending bill (HB545) onto the ballot. My reply has been that there's little chance of them making the ballot, and if they do, even less chance of them winning in November. Interestingly, though, one of my key arguments is a whole lot shakier than I had realized.

The first hurdle is to actually get the petition drive started. In order to do that, they have to get language that provides a summary description of the initiative. It appears that they might have some problems there.

Assuming that they get this resolved by tomorrow (?!?), they will have to collect 241,365 signatures from registered voters in 44 of Ohio's 88 counties. That's a lot of signatures in a short period of time. In my conversations with interested citizens, I've compared this situation to that of the infamous "stripper bill" from last year. In both cases regulations were created to limit the activities of industries with low social standing (adult entertainment, payday loans). In both cases, private industry groups attempted to get the regulations repealed by going to the ballot. For the stripper bill, this involved hiring a slew of petition gatherers, and pressing them hard to get signatures in a hurry. The end result was a petition drive in which the invalid signatures outnumbered the valid signatures more than 2-1. This happened for an attempted repeal of a bill that wasn't even very popular with many folks on the right or the left. The Community Financial Services Association, on the other hand, is looking at trying to drum up support against a bill that was popular both with progressives and social conservatives. A substantial portion of the base of supporters for their position are people who use their financial products, a demographic that, unfortunately for tham, is much less likely to have/provide the valid registration data required for the petition.

Hopeless, right? Perhaps, and my money is still on missing the ballot, but there's an intriguing counter to that argument above. In the wake of failures such as the stripper bill repeal and the GIRFOF education amendment, a brand spanking new petition-gathering firm was created last January. They promise state-of-the-art collection techniques, real-time registration validation, and experience in collecting more than a million signatures in less than three months during 2006.

The Ohio Petition Company, however, has never conducted a petition drive of this magnitude. I can't find evidence that the company (as opposed to its founders in their pre-OPC days) have conducted a petition drive of any type at any time. They don't appear to have field tested this state-of-the-art approach at all. I contacted them by email last Friday for this post, but despite their website's promise of a 24-48 hour response time on emails, I haven't heard back from them.

The biggest political story to come out of this petition drive may not be the ballot measure (I can't imagine it will get within 10% of passage if it does make the ballot), but the success or failure of OPC's methodology. If they can get 241K valid signatures in six weeks for a dog like this initiative, the bar for ballot access in Ohio will be functionally lowered by a staggering amount. Expect a landslide of ballot access drives conducted by OPC and copycats in 2008. On the other hand, a spectacular failure using this methodology may send a very different signal about the cost/benefit ratio of attempts to spend one's way onto the ballot.