SEATTLE – Collecting signatures for initiative petitions has become a big business in Washington state, far different from the grassroots movements that once put measures on the ballots.
In Washington state this year, it takes at least 241,000 signatures to get an initiative on the ballot and the Secretary of State recommends campaigns get at least 300,000 to allow for duplicate and invalid signatures.
The vast majority of initiatives that make the ballot now use paid signature gatherers, according to the Secretary of State's office. And there is no regulation over how much campaigns pay or what signature gatherers say to encourage people to sign.
"That is essentially a form of campaigning, and government is not going to try and regulate that campaigning," said Katie Blinn, Assistant Director of Elections at the Secretary of State's office.
Some signature gatherers come from outside Washington state and see the process as a way to make some money quickly. Some initiatives have paid three dollars or more for each signature collected.
"We're very motivated to help you get your initiatives passed," said Wayne Springfield, a San Jose resident who spent 14 days in Seattle collecting signatures for five initiatives.
Springfield says at $2.50 a signature, he can get up to $10 if a single person signs all multiple initiatives. He claims he earned as much as $2,000 on some days, and is headed back home to California this week.