The president of a state building trades union today acknowledged helping fund a new campaign warning voters that signing initiative petitions could put them at increased risk of identity theft.
State Building and Construction Trades Council of California President Bob Balgenorth said he was part of a group of people who came up with the idea for Californians Against Identity Theft, which recently launched a radio spot and website urging listeners not to sign initiative petitions.
"I've long been concerned about the whole ballot initiative process, the fact that it's not regulated as much as it should be," he said.
The domain name for the group's website is registered to the phone number and address of the union's Sacramento office, but Balgenorth said that was a mistake and that he is not currently directly involved in the group or behind the website. He said the union has provided funding for Californians Against Identity Theft, though he said he does not know how much it has given so far.
Balgenorth declined to identify people running Californians Against Identity Theft or other backers, saying that while the issue is important to a lot of people, "I don't know who all the people are."
The timing of the launch has raised questions about whether the new effort is intended to derail one or more controversial proposals that have hit the streets to qualify for the 2012 ballot, including one signature drive that has already been met with labor opposition. Balgenorth said his union's support of the effort is not intended to target any specific local or state initiative, but the entire paid signature-gathering industry.
"They're all paid bounty hunters who go out and just gather a signature for a fee," he said. "For me, the goal would be that there's some accountability for stuff like that.... I think the whole initiative process needs to be looked at."
The ad's premise that providing your name, address and signature to a petition circulator increases the risk of identity theft has come under fire from leading anti-identity theft and consumer advocacy groups.
"It's outrageous that someone would disguise dirty politics as consumer protection," California Public Interest Research Group legislative director Pedro Morillas said in a statement. "There is as much risk of identity theft involved in signing a petition as there is in being listed in the phone book,"
Californians Against Identity Theft has not responded to phone and email messages left at numbers and addresses associated with the effort.