AG Harris asked to investigate effort to overturn plastic bag ban

Shopping BagsSACRAMENTO – Supporters of the state’s plastic bag ban today refiled their complaint with California Attorney General Kamala Harris over deceptive signature gathering by petition gatherers seeking a repeal of the law. The move comes after the Secretary of State’s office said it would not review the complaint because Secretary of State Alex Padilla had a conflict as author of the legislation, SB 270, that is the subject of the referendum.

“In order to avoid any conflicts of interest in light of the serious violations you allege, it is more appropriate for the Attorney General’s office to review the complaint to make a determination about what further actions are appropriate, if any,” wrote Deputy Secretary of State Kimberly Gauthier.

California vs. Big Plastic, the campaign committee supporting the bag ban, originally filed a complaint with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen in December calling for an investigation of the signature gathering by the law’s opponents, citing numerous examples of deceptive signature gathering. The group refilled the complaint today with the Attorney General.

“To ensure the integrity of the state referendum process is not tarnished by criminal behavior, we request an immediate investigation into these disturbing reports of voter fraud during circulation of the ‘Referendum to Overturn Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags’ petition,” wrote attorney Lance Olson of California vs. Big Plastic, the group supporting the law and opposing the referendum.

California law makes it a crime for the proponents of a referendum, and those whom they hire to circulate a referendum, to engage in certain improper signature-gathering tactics. The law’s supporters submitted dozens of examples from across the state where petition gatherers misrepresented the petition they were urging voters to sign. In several cases, voters were urged to sign petitions to “save” the ban. But, in fact, the referendum would overturn the ban.

“We received dozens of complaints about deception,” said Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste. “It’s clear that the paid signature gatherers did and said anything to mislead voters into signing these petitions.”

Signature gatherers were being paid upwards of $3 per signature by Roseville, Calif.-based National Petition Management, which was contracted by the American Progressive Bag Alliance, the plastic bag industry’s committee bankrolling the referendum attempt. More than $3 million has been raised so far by the industry for the referendum. According to the Secretary of State, 98 percent of those contributions are from outside of California.

The industry submitted its petitions in late December. Counties are now undertaking the verification process, which is expected to be completed by the end of February.