The anti-labor group Protecting Michigan Taxpayers (PMT) was formed in 2012 as a front group for anti-union forces who wanted to defeat Proposal 2 which would have enshrined collective bargaining rights for workers into Michigan’s state constitution. The group had been dormant since their victory in November of 2012 but was resurrected last spring to push a ballot initiative of their own, one which will repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law which helps maintain decent wages for construction workers in our state.
Their effort is an indirect initiated state statute which requires collecting 8% of the number of votes cast for the governor in the last gubernatorial election. That means they need to turn in 252,523 valid signatures. If they are successful, the measure goes to the GOP-controlled legislature which can ignore it, reject it, or pass it. If they pass it – and in this case they are sure to do so since it harms workers and benefits corporations – it becomes law without the involvement of the voters or the governor. This is essential for them because Gov. Snyder has indicated he does NOT support repealing our prevailing wage law.
During the course of the petition circulation, the signature gatherers hired by PMT were found to be lying to people in order to get their signatures for which they were paid as much as $5 each. I reported about this here at Eclectablog:
Yesterday, Barb Shelton, the former Chair of the Jackson County Democratic Party contacted me about something she had witnessed. “I had two people knocking doors in my low-income, high-minority population neighborhood in Jackson,” she said. “They were passing the petitions off as ‘being for safer schools’. They also told my neighbor she could ‘qualify to win a cell phone’. I asked for their boss…of course they left.”
Sadly, Michigan courts have ruled that petitioners can say pretty much anything they want because people signing them can read the language on the petition itself. Of course, most don’t read the microprint on the petition.
My reporting lead to the creation of this video which features Barb Shelton talking about what she saw:
In September, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers turned in roughly 390,000 signatures, far more than they needed, providing them with what looked at the time like a comfortable margin. However, an examination of the signatures showed that many of the signatures were not valid and, thanks to the work of Protect Michigan Jobs, a group formed to fight the repeal of our prevailing wage law, we learned that there were scores of duplicate signatures with some people signing the petitions as many as ten times:
To determine if PMT had sufficient signatures, the Secretary of State’s office pulled a sample of 509 signatures at random. To certify the petition for consideration by the Legislature, PMT needed 347 or 69 percent to be found valid. If 347 to 315 were found valid, the state would have pulled a larger sample to examine. Under 314, the petition should be denied, according to policies of the Secretary of State’s Bureau of Elections.
The Bureau of Elections found 154 invalid signatures, mostly of unregistered voters, knocking the number of valid signatures in the sample down to 355.
Protect Michigan Jobs’ detailed review found 65 of the 355 accepted by the Bureau of Elections were duplicates. State law says that someone signing the petition more than once invalidates all signatures. That brought the number of valid signatures to 290 – well below the threshold for denial.
If additional registration and circulator duplicate challenges are accepted, that would remove even more signatures, bringing the number of valid signatures down to 267 or a meager 52 percent validity rate.
“The validity rate of the signatures submitted by Petitioners is the lowest percentage of any state level filing of an initiative or referendum petition in the history of such filings in Michigan!” the challenge states.
Bart Carrigan, a co-chair of Protect Michigan Jobs and President and CEO of Associated General Contractors of Michigan, called on the Board of State Canvassers to move quickly to dismiss the petitions.
PMT representatives immediately went on the defensive, calling the challenge “a brazen attack on Michigan taxpayers and their rights”. MLive has more:
“We are going to stand up for the nearly 400,000 men and women who exercised their right to petition their government, absolutely,” said Chris Fisher, vice president of PMT and president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan.
Fischer characterized the signature challenge as a “union attempt to disenfranchise” registered voters who signed petitions that his group put out into the field.
If the analysis done by Project Michigan Jobs is accurate, this is,of course, a laughable statement. In fact, it appears that as few as 222,200 people signed the petitions, not even close to 400,000. Considering the deceptive methods used to get people to sign the petitions, the number of people actually supporting the repeal of prevailing wage with their signature is even lower. This is democracy gone awry where a tiny proportion of Michiganders can bypass the electorate to overturn a law.
Protect Michigan Jobs is calling on Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate the petition drive. From their complaint:
Because (Protecting Michigan Taxpayers) has filed far less than the required 252,523 valid signatures, Challenger, Protect Michigan Jobs, respectfully requests that this Board deny certification of Protecting Michigan Taxpayers’ proposed initiative petition.
In addition, Challenger Protect Michigan Jobs calls upon this Board, the Secretary of State and the Bureau of Elections to investigate what appears to be widespread and pervasive violations of Michigan Election Law. That more than 40 percent of the signatures filed are unequivocally invalid can lead to no other conclusion but that the entire signature gathering process was, at best, careless and at worst, fraudulent, thereby tainting the entire initiative process in our State.
What’s most amazing about this is how much money the corporate front group PMT wasted on this failed effort. They have raised over $1.7 million for corporate front groups like the DeVos-backed Michigan Freedom Fund ($805,000) and Associated Builders and Contractors ($455,000). They hired an out-of-state firm, Silver Bullet LLC out of Las Vegas, to collect signatures and paid them over $1.1 million.
Anti-worker corporatists want us all to believe that we should run our state like a business and to put leaders in charge who can use their corporate skills to put the state on the right path. Given their complete mismanagement of this petition drive, it’s clear that turning over our government to them is the last thing we should do. Turning Michigan into a corporatocracy will diminish the position of workers resulting in lower wages, fewer benefits, and worse working conditions, all to benefit the bottom line of corporations in our state. No amount of erroneous demonizing of workers as “Big Labor” changes that fact.
For more information on the importance of our prevailing wage law, visit MichiganPrevails.com. Their coalition is made up of nearly all of the construction associations in the state and major building trades organizations representing over 100,000 skilled trades workers in Michigan. Even if this petition drive fails, there is legislation to repeal prevailing wage that has passed in the Senate and is waiting action by the House.
In other words, the fight isn’t over.