The exciting tactics of the moment become stale in a few days. But you may remember the political excitement in the summer of 2011 when commercials ran on radio stations in Sacramento and in Southern California warning listeners that people might steal their identities if they signed petitions to place specific measures on the ballot.
It was a deceptive and brazen attempt to undermine Article 2, Section 1 of the California Constitution: “All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their protection, security, and benefit, and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good may require.”
Where were the ads running? Who was coordinating the campaign? Who was funding the ads? How much was the campaign spending? Below is what I believe to be the first comprehensive public report to answer these questions.
BACKGROUND ABOUT THE SUMMER 2011 IDENTITY THEFT RADIO CAMPAIGN
On July 28, 2011, I began receiving reports of commercials on radio stations in the state’s major metropolitan areas telling listeners that their identities might be stolen if they signed petitions to place measures on the ballot.
I was the State Government Affairs Director of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of California at the time, and when the commercials started, the ABC government affairs staff throughout the state immediately suspected unions were behind them. Signatures were being collected at that time from voters in San Diego to place what is now on the June 2012 ballot as Proposition A (Fair and Open Competition) and Proposition B (Pension Reform). In addition, signatures were being collected from voters to place Fair and Open Competition measures on the ballot for the County of Sacramento and the City of Sacramento.
Finally, signatures were also being collected for a statewide paycheck protection ballot measure. A group calling itself Californians Against Identity Theft claimed to pay for the ads. You can hear the first radio ad at this link. The Sacramento Bee and other news outlets reported on the mysterious radio campaign: Radio Ad Claims Signing Initiatives Increases Risk for Identity Theft – Sacramento Bee – July 29, 2011.
Soon after, a Sacramento Bee reporter confirmed that Bob Balgenorth, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, was behind the ads: Building Trades Union Acknowledges Ties to Identity Theft Ads – Sacramento Bee – July 29, 2011. That same day, Californians Against Identity Theft established a web site: http://californiansagainstidentitytheft.org.
The site did not indicate who was funding the group. The only contact information was an anonymous Google e-mail address. On August 2, Amazon.com sent a letter to radio stations asking them to stop running the advertisements. Amazon was collecting signatures regarding new taxes the state was imposing on its transactions in California. Read the Amazon letter at this link.
Also on August 2, San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio – a candidate for Mayor of San Diego and leader of a local pension reform initiative campaign (now Proposition B) – revealed that he had submitted a “complaint” to the Attorney General and to the Fair Political Practices Commission about the group. Read the DeMaio letter to the Attorney General at this link and the DeMaio letter to the FPPC at this link.
The FPPC rejected the DeMaio complaint (see this link) and the Attorney General also rejected it (see this link). The Sacramento Bee reported on these developments and for the first time mentioned the Fair and Open Competition ballot measures as a possible motivation. I was quoted in this article on behalf of ABC of California: Attorney General, FPPC Asked to Investigate Identity Theft Ads – Sacramento Bee – August 2, 2011. On August 3, the committee filed vague Articles of Incorporation with the Secretary of State. See them on pages 7-8 at this link. The group also submitted a vague Form 410 Statement of Organization with the Secretary of State establishing itself as a political committee. See the Form 410 at this link. The name of the committee was “Californians Against Identity Theft and Ballot Fraud, supported by labor organizations.”
The committee sponsors were the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California and the California State Pipe Trades Council. The Treasurer was Tom Adams of the law firm Adams Joseph Broadwell & Cardozo. The additional officers were Bob Balgenorth, head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council, and Britton McFetridge, a former top legislative staffer with a phone number listed to the law firm of Olson Hagel & Fishburn LLP. (That law firm’s web site had no references to McFetridge.)
Here is the report from the Sacramento Bee: Californians Against Identity Theft Files as Campaign Committee – Sacramento Bee – August 3, 2011. A second commercial was eventually released and the campaign continued through the end of August 2011. It then faded away, only to be remembered when the State Building and Construction Trades Council credited the radio advertisements as a reason for the failure of the Fair and Open Competition - Sacramento campaign to qualify a ballot measure in the City of Sacramento prohibiting Project Labor Agreements on city projects. (Note: I was the Project Manager for that campaign.)
ABC's Anti-PLA Effort FAILS!
February 1, 2012 - In what is nothing short of a complete disaster for the ABC, their signature gathering effort to place a measure on the ballot to ban PLAs in the City of Sacramento has failed to gather the required number of signatures.
Based on random samplings of signatures, it appears that the ABC turned in huge numbers of invalid signatures, including thousands from people living in Sacramento County but not within the city limits. According to information from the County Registrar of Voters’ office, 20,000 of the more than 45,000 signatures submitted by ABC were invalid. With 32,000 valid signatures of City of Sacramento voters needed to qualify, samplings indicate that no more than 26,000 were actually gathered.
The ABC failure arose from a perfect storm of circumstances, starting with their own stunning incompetence in gathering so many invalid signatures. Organized labor’s “Decline to Sign” counter-campaign also proved effective in convincing voters not to provide their signatures, as was a radio advertising campaign warning of the dangers of identity theft by signature gatherers.
This is a huge victory for the working people of Sacramento, and a completely disastrous outcome for their enemies at ABC.