Crying fire in a crowded democracy

Paul Jacob

7/31/2011 12:00:08 AM - Paul Jacob

In the Dr. Seuss tale, the Grinch kept pressing himself, “I must find some way to keep Christmas from coming!” Then, the Grinch “got a wonderful awful idea.”

The same thing happened last week in California. A new Grinch-of-a-group with a shadowy identity started running a radio advertisement all across the state’s many expensive media markets. The apparent goal? To keep democracy from coming.

The group calls itself Californians Against Identity Theft (CAIT) and the radio spot is about identity theft. Well . . . sorta. Not really, though.

It’s actually an attempt to frighten people about identity theft so that they will refrain from engaging in the democratic process by signing petitions to place citizen initiative measures on the ballot for voters to decide. A number of petitions now gather up steam for a batch of newly proposed ballot initiatives, some strongly opposed by organized labor.

Tom Adams, CAIT’s secretary-treasurer, says “We’re not targeting any particular ballot measures,” but also refuses to disclose who is funding the effort, or why. The Sacramento Bee reports that the new Californians Against Identity Theft “does not appear to have any ties to established organizations dedicated to protecting consumers from identity theft.”

Meanwhile, State Building and Construction Trades Council of California President Bob Balgenorth admits he helped brainstorm the idea, telling the Bee that people circulating petitions are “all paid bounty hunters,” and adding, “I think the whole initiative process needs to be looked at.”

Wait a second, is this about identity theft . . . or the initiative process?

In the radio ad, a knowledgeable-sounding husband informs his wife, who has just committed the atrocity of signing a petition at the market, “you put yourself at risk to identity theft” because petitions “may” be collected by “convicted felons and forgers.”

“I even read that names and addresses on petitions were sent to other countries,” says the husband.

“Who knows what they did with it?” exclaims the wife.

“Now we really need to watch our bank statements and credit information,” the husband moans.

The flustered wife responds: “That’s it! I’m not signing any more of those petitions.”

For some reason, she doesn’t respond as savvier wives do, with a roll of the eyes and a combative “That’s nonsense” comment.

What’s the real risk of identity theft from signing a petition?

Well, first, note that CAIT doesn’t bring to the public’s attention even a single case of identity theft via initiative petition. Not one. Hmmmmmm.

Secondly, it is already against the law to send petition information out of the country, as the ad suggested.

The Bee reports that “[r]epresentatives for the Identity Theft Resource Center and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse” — two groups actually engaged in protecting folks from identity theft — “denounced the claims” made in the radio ad “as false and unmerited.”

According to a statement from the California Public Interest Research Group: “There is as much risk of identity theft involved in signing a petition as there is in being listed in the phone book.”

So, what’s at work here?

“It sounds like they’re trying to intimidate people from exercising what is a constitutional right,” concludes Derek Cressman, Western regional director for Common Cause.

“Outrageous,” responds Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies.

Californians Against Identity Theft is a scam organization, whose name has nothing to with it’s anti-democratic mission. The group’s radio advertisement is a dirty trick intended to scuttle citizen control of government. Their chosen tactic is similar to parking a police cruiser with lights flashing at a polling place in hopes of dissuading folks from voting. Despicable.

We can hope that those involved in this deceptive fly-by-night CAIT group, and the organizations working with them — the unions and the “progressive” Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, whose mission is to block conservative ballot measures from a vote by any means necessary — will see their hearts, like the Grinch’s, “grows three sizes” in a day. Then, they’d no doubt apologize for their dishonest voter suppression tactics.

But don’t count on it.

Instead, Californians must stand up to defend their initiative and referendum rights against the concerted attacks of big labor, big business and big politicians. There’s a reason they despise democracy.