The state attorney general and California's campaign watchdog agency have been asked to investigate a new labor-backed group telling voters that signing initiative petitions increases risk of identity fraud.
Carl DeMaio, a San Diego councilman supporting an effort to qualify a local pension reform measure, filed a complaint over the weekend with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that Californians Against Identity Theft is running afoul of state disclosure laws and "knowingly using false information to alarm voters and stifle the constitutionally protected rights of individuals" in the radio spots and website it launched last week.
In a separate letter, DeMaio asked state Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate the ad and other activities he said are "undermining the initiative process" for San Diego voters.
As The Bee reported Friday, the organization behind the ads has received funding from the California Building and Construction Trades Council. The secretary-treasurer of the group, a retired attorney who formerly represented the union, declined to identify other contributors Friday. He said Californians Against Identity Theft, which has not filed a campaign committee, has been incorporated as a 501(c)4 nonprofit.
Californians Against Identity Theft's 60-second radio ad, which is airing on stations in Sacramento and Southern California, urges listeners not to sign initiative petitions.Organizers say the effort is intended to educate the public about a need for more regulation of the initiative system, particularly the paid-signature gathering industry. But the ad came under fire Friday from good government and consumer advocates who said its claims were largely unsubstantiated and the timing sparked questions about whether the real goal of the campaign is to derail efforts to qualify measures circulating for local or statewide elections.
Kevin Dayton, a lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors of California, said he believes the building trades' union is targeting three local measures to ban local project labor agreements that typically favor unionized workers for publicly funded projects, including an effort seeking to qualify in Sacramento.
"It's completely deceptive," he said of the ad and anonymous fliers he said are being distributed at local grocery stores populated by petition circulators.
Attorneys for a statewide proposal to overturn a new online sales tax collection law have also taken aim at the effort, asking radio stations to stop airing the ad amid concerns that it is "filled with false and misleading statements." The "Amazon Tax" referendum is one of several high-profile measures currently collecting petition signatures to qualify for the 2012 ballot.
"This is a short buy by a stealth group that makes a number of outrageous statements to discourage voters from exercising their constitutional rights," Chip Nielsen, a general counsel for the referendum effort, wrote in a memo sent Friday to station managers.
Nielsen, who also raised concerns about whether the group is complying with the state Political Reform Act, said he has not yet heard of any stations voluntarily pulling the ad. Lance Olson, an attorney for Californians Against Identity Theft, responded to the complaints by saying the group is "operating appropriately and legally."
Read the full FPPC complaint below.
Editor's note: This post was updated to add a comment from Olson and to clarify that the complaint was filed over the weekend.