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Spin Control

Tue., July 26, 2011, 7:16 a.m.

Fighting over signature fraud

OLYMPIA -- Last week's allegations of signature fraud on petitions for Initiative 1163 have sparked a little  back and forth between the intiative campaigns.

For those not in rapt attention, the folks hired to pay for signatures for I-1163, which would reinstitute training and background checks for home health care workers, found some petitions that didn't pass muster. The details of what exactly are wrong with them, and who collected the supposedly bogus John Hancocks, hasn't been released yet. But the petitions were yanked from the stack by PCI Consultants and never turned in.

The Service Employees International Union, sponsor of the initiative, was quick to denounce any perfidy, but others noted that SEIU was a big proponent of legislation earlier this year to tighten up signature-gathering requirements for almost everyone...except unions.

Initiative entrepreneur extraordinaire Tim Eyman weighed in, saying that the SEIU has led the charge to clean up the system, yet "in 13 years and 13,778244 signatures, the secretary of state's office has had zero instances of verified forgeries or fraud EXCEPT from the SEIU -- one of their volunteers last year and now their paid petitioners this year."

Wait a minute, said Kristina Logsdon of the Ballot Initiative Network. The legislation was supported by a broad coalition, not led by SEIU. And there was another case involving one of Eyman's initiatives: I-985 in 2008. In that case, a mother and daughter from Spokane were charged with submitting phony signatures; the daughter agreed to testify and the mom took a plea.

Questioned about his selective listing of fraud cases, Eyman said he was being very specific. The bad petitions from Theresa Dedeaux were never turned in to the secretary of state's office by Citizen Solutions, Inc., the firm hired to collect signatures for 985. They were spotted by the pros and pulled out of the stacks, then flagged for elections officials.

But that's essentially what PCI did this year on I-1163. To be fair, if you mention one, you pretty much have to mention both.

Eyman also contends it's not fair to tie the Dedeaux antics solely to I-985. They were gathering signatures for lots of intiatives in 2008, he said; the folks at Citizen Solutions were the ones that caught them.

Possibly. But no one will ever know because of the very fragmented system that signature gathering sometimes engenders.

Mercedes Dedeaux was a subcontractor for her mother Theresa, who was a subcontractor for longtime signature gatherer Dennis O'Shea, who was a subcontractor for Citizen Solutions. O'Shea tipped Citizen Solutions about Theresa's questionable petitions; he never even turned in Mercedes' sheets.

Theresa later told investigators that O'Shea told them to fill in the phony names, which seems odd since he was the one that exposed them. But O'Shea committed suicide before the investigation even began, so there's no one to contradict her story.

In any case, there are two things one can say about signature fraud involving initiatives: There's more than one case. The problem isn't common or rampant.




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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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