The State Worker

California pension proposal goes grassroots for signature collection

Carl DeMaio, one of the proponents of a pension proposal intended for the November 2016 ballot.
Carl DeMaio, one of the proponents of a pension proposal intended for the November 2016 ballot. AP

A proponent of the latest California public-pension ballot proposal has launched an email effort he says will drum up an army of volunteers to collect signatures. A spokesman for the measure’s union opposition countered that the email is “a fundraising scam.”

The mass appeal issued by former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio carries a subject line, “Signature Needed ASAP” and a link to an electronic pledge form titled, “Yes, I support Pension Reform!”

The form notes that the campaign needs 580,000 signatures from California voters to qualify the proposal for next year’s ballot and that petitions will be available “in the next few weeks.”

“If you are willing to sign the petition and ask your friends and family to sign,” the form states, “please provide your contact information and we will contact you when the petitions are ready.”

The pledge form includes fields for first name, last name, ZIP code and email address. “Reform California” is emblazoned across the bottom. DeMaio chairs a political committee with the same name.

DeMaio said in an email that he wasn’t sure how many emails have gone out: “My list has 50,000 supporters,” he said, and that “a lot of our folks have forwarded” the pledge request.

Asked how many people have pledged, DeMaio would only say the response has been “amazing so far,” and promised he would announce the tally “soon” along with a new goal.

Steve Maviglio, spokesman for a union coalition that has successfully fought previous attempts to put a pension measure on the ballot, said DeMaio’s pledge email is “a fundraising scam, pure and simple, to build his donor list.”

He doubts it will work, however.

“To get a measure on the ballot,” Maviglio said, “you need signatures on a petition, not a petition for a petition.”

DeMaio said that the email blast isn’t a play for money. His successful San Diego pension measure got on the 2012 ballot with the efforts of 3,000 volunteers, he said, and volunteers in Ventura County also collected signatures for a pension measure there, but a court ruling kept it off the ballot.

“We will utilize grassroots signature collection to overcome the expected union blockers,” DeMaio said. “We will, of course, also hire paid campaign staff to collect signatures as well.”

Few statewide ballot measures have reached voters without paying for signature collection campaigns that can cost $1 million or more. Many efforts, including previous pension proposals, have died from early financial starvation because because potential donors wouldn’t underwrite petition drives.

DeMaio’s political committee, California Reform, had $28,910.88 in the bank at the end of June. Contributions through the first half of the year totaled $45,974, including an $8,000 loan from DiMaio in March.

Expenses this year included $11,463 paid to The Tarrance Group Inc. in April for polling and survey research.

“I have paid for some research through Reform California,” DeMaio said, and his pension-measure partner, former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, “has paid for some research through his committee.”

Once they start collecting signatures, DeMaio said, they will form another committee for the measure.

DeMaio, a Republican, and Democrat Reed are backing a measure that would, among other provisions, require voter approval before state or local government employees could receive increased retirement benefits.

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