Something went wrong.

That's what politicos from Tucson to Flagstaff are saying, as an unprecedented number of citizen initiatives have been kicked off this fall's ballot.

No one can remember the last time that any statewide initiative got booted after turning in its signatures. This year, we've already had three.

And two more initiatives nearly suffered the same fate, only to squeak by on technicalities.

Sure, the voters lose out, but the loss to the initiatives' backers is even greater. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars readying their pet projects, only to see them rejected before prime time.

"On a scale of one to 10 on the Richter scale of Arizona history, this is a 9.5," says local political consultant Jason Rose, who's not directly involved in this year's initiative process. "There is going to be massive fallout."

So what went wrong?

People will tell you that Maricopa County is the hub of this year's petition problems. They say county officials have been pickier than usual in their verifications — and they plan to prove it in court.

But there's another possibility.

All three failed initiatives hired the same Scottsdale company to gather signatures. That company, in turn, hired subcontractors, many of them firms that travel state-to-state gathering signatures.

Some of those subs have faced allegations of serious impropriety in the past. And I've talked to three local workers who allege that the subs permitted, and sometimes even encouraged, fraud.

One whistleblower says he tried to complain to initiative backers and state regulators but says no one would listen.

Now, with initiatives failing at a shocking rate, he may well have their attention.


Arizona is one of 24 states that allow "citizen initiatives." Basically, anyone who collects enough signatures from registered voters can put a question on the statewide ballot.

It's direct democracy, with surprising results. Our state Legislature would surely never approve of medical marijuana, but the people did, twice. Recently, Arizona voters refused to ban gay marriage, raised the minimum wage, and drastically curtailed the rights of illegal immigrants. Politically, we're all over the map, and that's kind of cool.

The flip side is this: What the state's populist founders saw as a way to curb special interests has instead been a boon to them.

Just look at the initiatives proposed this fall. Ward Connerly, who's successfully led crusades against affirmative action from Michigan to California, has one on the ballot here. The payday loan industry is pushing a plan to make the Legislature back off from, yep, the payday loan industry.

There's a reason you seldom see John Q. Public pushing an initiative.

To get on the ballot in Arizona, initiatives need a whopping 153,365 valid signatures. That means hiring a company to track down registered voters; you simply can't expect volunteers to collect so many.

And though this work is ostensibly the grassroots of democracy, in reality, it can be sleazy.

We've all heard the trope comparing lawmaking to sausages — the less you know about how they're made, the more respect you have for them.

Trust me on this: It's 100 percent true when it comes to signature gathering.

"When you run a signature company, you're basically a captain of the underworld," says political consultant Rose, himself no stranger to those environs. "It's a nasty, gnarly business."

Signature-gathering companies pay an army of barely regulated freelancers anywhere from $1 to $2 per signature. If a random 5 percent sample of signatures checks out with county regulators — and if the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed — the initiative goes on the ballot.

This year, the signatures aren't checking out. Failure rates in Maricopa County are at more than 40 percent.

Of the nine initiatives attempting to make the ballot, all but two hired the same Scottsdale firm, Petition Partners LLC, to gather signatures.

And those two, the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative and Majority Rules, ended up with virtually the same workforce because the initiatives all used the same subcontractors. (The civil rights initiative now faces a lawsuit from opponents trying to get it kicked off the ballot, alleging fraud on the part of signature gatherers. But don't be deceived: Every one of the initiatives trying to make the ballot used virtually the same crew on the street level.)

Some of the subcontractors most active in Arizona this summer have been linked to improprieties in other states. And three whistleblowers tell me that serious problems occurred here.

One was brave enough to put his name on the record; the other two, given anonymity, corroborated some of his more serious allegations.

Jack Bickley gathered signatures in the Valley for 10 weeks this spring. During that time, the 30-something East Valley resident claims that he witnessed systemic fraud.

He alleges:

• Misrepresentation. Bickley says his fellow circulators frequently lied to voters about what they were signing.

• Circulator falsifications. Those circulating petitions must sign the back, verifying that they personally witnessed each signature. Bickley says that some of his coworkers routinely signed the back of petitions they did not witness. Managers, he says, encouraged the practice.

• Worst of all, Bickley alleges, piles of petitions and voter registration cards were collected but never turned in. Thousands of Arizona residents may believe they're registered to vote, Bickley says, even as their registrations gathered dust. Once the subs who'd promised payment skipped town, no one knew what to do with them.

The fraud, Bickley says, wasn't occasional or accidental. "This was not once in a while," he says. "This was systematic."

Derrick Lee, who owns the signature-gathering firm Lee Petition Management, first put me in touch with Bickley last week. Lee had heard numerous claims of fraud in this election cycle — and was troubled enough to go public with his concerns. (Once known as the "petition king of Arizona," he's admittedly lost much of his business to Petition Partners in recent years, and even ended up subcontracting with the company this year.)

So I met Bickley at a restaurant in Gilbert. To back up his claims, Bickley showed me a sheaf of signed petitions and photocopies he'd made of voter registration cards. He says he's been talking to his fellow gatherers, many of whom gave up on getting paid and destroyed petitions and registrations. These are the ones, he says, that he managed to save from the dumpster.

"Tens of thousands of signatures have been thrown out," Bickley says.

Bickley says he got involved with the petition process on a whim. Until six months ago, he says, he lived in Hawaii. But while visiting family in the Valley in February, he was approached by a man outside Wal-Mart asking him to sign a petition to lower the price of gas.

Sure, Bickley said. Who doesn't want cheaper gas?

When he looked at the petition, Bickley was stunned to read that it was actually a petition to put Ralph Nader on the ballot.

"What does this have to do with the price of gas?" he demanded.

"Hey, Ralph Nader's for legalizing hemp," the petition circulator told him. "That's an alternative fuel."

The conversation was so unnerving, Bickley says, that he decided he had to learn more. He ended up staying in the Valley and, by April, had signed up to circulate petitions.

In the next two months, he witnessed far worse than the original circulator's fairy tale about Nader. Bickley says that some of his colleagues are now submitting written statements about what they've witnessed to a Scottsdale attorney. (The attorney did not return calls for comment.)

Derrick Lee says he's heard from a half-dozen gatherers who said they are filing affidavits.

Based on what he's heard, and the petitions he's examined, Lee says that problems with this year's citizen initiatives go far beyond normal error.

"In my opinion, this is organized crime," Lee says. "I will go on the record and say that, because that's what it is."


The company at the center of the firestorm, Petition Partners, is based out of a suite in Old Town Scottsdale. The firm is owned and managed by Andrew Chavez, who started it eight years ago. (Bob Grossfeld, a veteran political consultant closely allied with the Democrats, owns a one-third share of the company.)

Chavez did not return my call until a few minutes before deadline. But his lawyer, Andrew Gordon, makes a strong case that the problem is with the county's verification process, not his client.

"What's weird this year is that — not just for Petition Partners, but the other petition-gathering companies — there's an extremely high failure rate in Maricopa County, and pretty much only in Maricopa County," Gordon says. "And our quality-control checks were all showing 75 percent validity. So why is Maricopa County coming in so much lower? That's the real question."

When Chavez finally called me Tuesday, he was harshly critical of Derrick Lee. Lee is angry, he says, because Petition Partners rejected nearly 7,000 signatures he'd collected. "He got left holding the bag," he says. "He wouldn't be doing this otherwise."

(Lee points out he started contacting New Times more than a month ago, long before the flap over signatures.)

And Chavez notes that it's not just his petitions — the two that hired other companies to gather signatures are suffering an error rate that's just as bad.

"This is not a Petition Partners problem," he says.

But I think it may be a problem involving lousy subcontractors. Everybody in town seems to have used YPM LLC, a Florida-based company owned by Mark Jacoby. And Jacoby's group is at the center of Jack Bickley's most damning allegations. (Jacoby, who has left town, did not return calls for comment by press time.)

Bickley says that Jacoby encouraged, and even expected, behavior that could well be criminal under Arizona statutes.

Jacoby, he says, had a system where a trainer would be assigned as many as six new circulators. Even though the trainer would be nowhere near the circulators while they collected signatures, he would still sign the back of their petitions, attesting that he'd personally witnessed them.

"The person who signed the back was not present when the petitions were signed," Bickley says. "How could he be? He had five or six people working under him at different spots around town."

Both Jacoby and Jenny Breslin, who owns JSM LLC, served as subcontractors on all the initiatives handled by Petition Partners. (They also contracted on the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative.)

Both Jacoby and Breslin have generated controversy in other states.

In Massachusetts in 2005, a college student told the Associated Press that Jacoby trained her in bait-and-switch techniques, including telling people they were signing for one petition while their signatures were actually captured for two. "The fraud was looked upon as a game," the student said.

A year earlier, the St. Petersburg Times linked Jacoby to a registration scam. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement began investigating, the paper wrote, after receiving allegations that as many as 4,000 voters were registered as Republicans without their consent. Jacoby was never charged.

As for Breslin, her signature-gathering company was subject to a criminal investigation in Ohio after allegations of fraudulent voter registrations, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. (Apparently, the probe was dropped without charges being filed. Breslin could not be reached for comment.) She also came under fire for allegedly turning in forged signatures in Florida, the paper reported.

These are the guys to whom Petition Partners farmed out much of its day-to-day operations in Arizona.

Attorney Gordon, who represents Petition Partners, says that Chavez has used Jacoby in the past "and he says he's been a very good subcontractor. They run quality control on Mark as well as the other contractors, and he has a very good rate."


For all the problems with this year's initiative process, backers believe they may still get on the ballot.

Recently, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Mark Aceto rejected the secretary of state's determination that the medical choice initiative was off the ballot. While the secretary of state was following the letter of the law, Judge Aceto ruled that "substantial compliance" was good enough, says Chuck Blanchard, the attorney who handled the case.

In the next week, Judge Aceto will hear similar arguments from the backers of both the governor's transportation tax initiative and the state trust lands issue.

Both are represented by Blanchard. With the same lawyer, and the same judge, it's hard to imagine the "substantial compliance" won't be good enough.

The question is whether Petition Partners will be able to hold onto the lion's share of the local signature business in the future.

Political consultant Jason Rose says that, prior to this cycle, Petition Partners enjoyed a great reputation. "The irony is that so many significant people put their eggs in one basket," he says. "That's because of the stellar work they'd done previously."

But the repercussions for this year's failures could be more serious than lost business.

Kevin Tyne, a spokesman for the secretary of state, tells me that his office has forwarded allegations of impropriety to the state attorney general. (He did not specify which companies, or individuals, are being targeted.)

Not surprisingly, Attorney General Terry Goddard wouldn't comment on specifics. But the situation has piqued his interest.

"I am amazed at the high rejection rate and very concerned about the validity of signatures," he says. "I am going to take a serious look at whether fraud has been committed."

That's good news. And after just one week poking around this, I have to say, I don't think Goddard will have to look very hard.

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10 comments
samuel
samuel

Derrick is a rich, lying bag , who also cheats his street people workers. no wonder he's having to leave arizona for business.

c hardement
c hardement

Sorry Drew. I didn't want to lie. Someone that you and I both know made me. Hope that you know that i want to work in the future. you will hire me right? clarissa were told to.

clarissa
clarissa

sorry about the last few comments. Someone promised me a few bucks to post them. i just need some gas money. Derrick told me that if i told a few stories that he would make everytihng ok. He won't return my calls though. Sorry Drew.

Mike
Mike

All of the minutia about this issue is interesting, but it doesn't answer the real question that would indicate fraud.

Who's signatures are the ones that are being thrown out? Are the "signature gatherers" getting together and signing each others petitions? Are they getting homeless people to sign multiple times with different names? Are they taking petitions out of the area where registered voters for that petition would likely be and having others sign them (getting signatures in New Mexico for a AZ state referendum for example)? Are there really over 50% of the people that sign these things not registered but think they can legally sign a petition?

Just who belongs to the disallowed signatures?

Carol
Carol

I noticed every signature gatherer not checking the box of whether they were paid or unpaid circulators and that is required to be checked before getting the signatures. Also, almost every signature gatherer was carrying about 75% of the petitions. They did regularly not tell the truth about what the initiative did and further, they rarely had the legal text attached.

c hardement
c hardement

We all lied-that is what we were told to do-I gathered signatures for a lady named karri kelty and was paid cash and was told if ever asked tell them I volunteered-now I am scared that I will be caught I also signed the back of the petition for lots of others so it would not look like there was alot of people working on it-will I go to jail?

clarrissa
clarrissa

i just got back from ohio working for jsm and was ripped off for the last time. jenny-you and larry and cairo should have paid me. you should have never asked me to do this lady's petition for drew chavez and his partner bob.

what drew and bob should worry about is the 20 or so circulators that were paid cash by JSM who worked for drew and were told not to say anything to anyone about the candidate we petitioned for. this candidate is kara kelty-drew you should have known that somebody would say something

Equity Court Services of Arizo
Equity Court Services of Arizo

Thanks, Tom, because we archive information/data for later reference. That's why the Phoenix associates posted that rundown of their case(s) in Phoenix, which they can fully document on request at no charge if it's E-mailed file attachments.

Sincerely,

/s/

John O'Sullivan, chicago Associate for

WORLD WITHOUT WIRES and EQUITY COURT SERVICES OF ARIZONA

Comments to equityct@gmail.com

Tom
Tom

"the governor's transportation tax initiative"This is the real fraud here.Since when does a Governor do initiatives?What happened to checks and balances?If it's that important, it should come from the Legislature. She's overstepping her authority and undermining them.

Judge Mark Aceto says "substantial compliance".Does he think he's playing horseshoes?Can I use this precedent when his name comes up for judicial performance in the next election?

This is right off an email from ADOT:

The State Transportation Board will host a series of four public hearings in June to invite public comments on a statewide transportation program developed by the Arizona Department of Transportation collaboratively with regional and local transportation partners from across the state.ADOT�s Statewide Transportation Investment Strategy outlines a transportation program that would be funded through a ballot initiative filed by the TIME (Transportation and Infrastructure Moving Arizona�s Economy) Coalition.

The head of ADOT, Victor Mendez, is a Gov appointee.ADOT is part of the Gov's Executive Branch. Does it get any clearer that this is truly a governor's initiative?Would Goddard touch this? Not when I asked him?

EQUITY COURT SERVICES OF ARIZO
EQUITY COURT SERVICES OF ARIZO

THE FOLLOWING AND ALL OTHER BLOG POSTS AND COMMENTARY HEREIN AND ELSEWHERE ARE THE OPINIONS BASED ON KNOWN FACTS OF EQUITY COURT SERVICES OF ARIZONA.

Thanks again Sarah for the valuable information. As suspected, these dirtbag politicos are not representing the people. Nothing new, but the intentional and malicious STIFLING of popular sentiment is SCARY.

The courts, as bad as they are, appear to be the only place to turn. Therefore, we are "fine-tuning" our investigation of possible DIRECT involvement of City of Phoenix officials in the subjugation of the people's voice. Again, scary stuff.

The following is being analyzed by some Legal Clinics at some of this Nation's BIGGEST and MOST WELL-RESPECTED law schools. We emphasize that we HAVE NOT AND WILL NOT bother sending this to ASU Law. We actually like ASU, even ASU Law, but isn't it funny that many of these local corrupt, lying thugs attended ASU and/or ASU Law School.

Remember that convicted first-degree murderer and dope-dealing punk HAMM, the bum who had the nerve to try to get admitted to the Arizona Bar AFTER he did 20 years in maximum (mostly) and graduated from ASU Law? Fortunately, the Arizona Supreme Court told him to take a hike.

Here's what's being analyzed and we ask, "Should Goober aka "Mayor Chickenshit," aka "Front Porch Bench" be charged criminally, named as Defendant in Federal Court, recalled, impeached, or even praised?" We leave the praise option for those of you who favor this type of government and mayor. Hey, it's a free country.

Our letter to the Law Clinics:

"Dr. Rooney, Esq.

Here's a pertinent timeline of events leading up to this mess:

1. Mid-November, 2007 - due to serious violent crimes committed against innocent peopleby DOCUMENTED illegals (whether they were/are Hispanic, Irish, or from Jupiter - it's IMMATERIAL), EQUITY COURT SERVICES OF ARIZONA files a series of complaints with the US Attorney and ICE (see attached).

2. After these complaints were filed, telephone harassment and threats of prosecution ESCALATE against Bill Stoller by a self-identified "Police Cadet" named JAMES SMOKE and Police Assistant VICKI ROLLINGER. Their behavior amounted criminal behavior as defined by the applicable Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 13.

Of course, our complaints to the Phoenix PD were ignored. Further, Phoenix Gang Unit Detective MALDONADO continues to harass EQUITY and Mr. Stoller and unduly delays and censors alleged "police reports" filed against them by ROLLINGER, SMOKE, et. al.

3. On January 28, 2008, Mr. Stoller files a Title 42, 1983 and action to enjoin an illegal State prosecution against The Phoenix City Prosecuters, Vicki Rollin, and The State of Arizona.

4. In early April, 2008, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon writes a very weak and mostly undocumented complaint to the US Attorney seeking an investigation into alleged "racial profiling" by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Note that we specifcally had mentioned calling Arpaio's hotline in November due to the Phoenix PD's and Mayor Gordon's complete inaction and negligence, even after a deported illegal killed Phoenix police Officer Erkle and after we had repeatedly reported serious, violent crimes committed by people we absolutely KNEW were illegal. Again, it doesn't matter whether they were Irish, italian, Hispanic, or whatever.

5. May, 2008 - Attorney Michael Manning files Title 42,1983, gross negligence and other claims against the City of Phoenix, Police Chief Jack Harris, and other defendants, on behalf of the Gotbaum kids and Carol Gotbaum's estate.

6. July, 2008 - JESSIKA (JESSICA) RODRIGUEZ, former "right hand woman" to Gordon, files what we maintain is a frivolous, retaliatory, malicious, and baseless Civil Rights complaint in US District Court Phoenix. Note that back in November/December Mr. Stoller and others had informally noticed Rodriguez and the Mayor that they planned to file a civil rights complaint(s).

7. January, 2008, et. seq. - EQUITY COURT SERVICES OF ARIZONA was trying to assist distraught American citizens, some homeless Veterans, who complained to EQUITY about illegally being denied menial jobs at McDonald's, North 7th Avenue and West Van Buren, Phoenix and elsewhere (see attached). EQUITY then joined the AFL-CIO as an associate to gain available assistance from the unions.

We are starting to see a disturbing pattern of what we feel is retribution by a desperate and scared Mayor Gordon and the City of Phoenix when they know they're on the verge of being held accountable. Please investigate.

Thank you for your assistance.

Sincerely,

/s/

Staff and Associates of

EQUITY COURT SERVICES OF ARIZONAWORLD WITHOUT WIRES

All commentary to: equityct@gmail.com - cited documents will be E-mailed to you. "Hard copies" sent at cost, no profit to us.

Vaya con Dios, amigos!

 

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