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Goose and gander: Firm charges lawmakers hourly rate to gather signatures

A handful of incumbent Arizona legislators aren’t happy that the most prolific signature gathering firm in the state is treating them the way they treat citizens who propose or challenge laws via the ballot.

Andrew Chavez, the owner of Petition Partners, said he’s holding accountable GOP lawmakers who voted for HB 2404, a measure approved in April that ended the practice of paying circulators per signature for statewide ballot initiatives and referendums. The law, approved on party line votes by Republicans who claimed it would stamp out signature-gathering fraud, does not apply to lawmakers, some of whom pay to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot every two years.

That didn’t sit well with Chavez, who’s now using his prerogative as a business owner to deny legislators the option to pay per signature.

Andrew Chavez

Andrew Chavez

“I watched hours and hours of testimony and hours and hours of committee on the original HB 2404 and its spawns,” Chavez said. “I heard a lot of false narratives about fraud… If folks are going to use the rhetoric, they need to follow up.”

Seven incumbent Republicans have approached his firm asking for a quote for his services, Chavez tweeted Wednesday. And all seven were “upset” to learn that Chavez will only let them pay to have signatures collected at an hourly rate, the new business model used by ballot initiatives. For example, SOS Arizona paid some circulators by the hour this summer to help gather enough signatures to challenge a school voucher expansion law.

Chavez would not tell the Arizona Capitol Times which lawmakers approached him.

Some of the lawmakers who voted for HB 2404 have bought signatures to qualify for the ballot in the past. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Vince Leach of Tucson, paid at least $680 for signatures during the 2016 election.

Vince Leach

Vince Leach

Leach, who previously stated HB 2404 “restores some badly needed integrity” to the initiative process, claimed in House debates that a pay-per-signature ban need not apply to lawmakers because they can be un-elected, and that voter initiatives can’t be recalled. Those arguments ignore that fact that voters always have the option of repealing a voter-approved measure, while lawmakers can also send a referral to the ballot to repeal any voter-approved measure.

Chavez’s refusal to offer lawmakers per-signature quotes isn’t meant to be vindictive, but to hold legislators who voted for HB 2404 accountable for their statements and actions, he said.

“I never agreed with their argument, but if you’re going to make your argument, you need to stand by your argument,” he said.

Chavez is in a unique position to make sure legislators do just that. In his tweet, he repeated an old proverb heard often at the Capitol from those who opposed HB 2404: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

“I just wanted to point out the irony. I truly believe that folks at the beginning of the year didn’t understand how this was going to impact the market,” Chavez said. “We have a lot of leverage in the market, and I think the rules have changed.”

It’s now standing policy at Petition Partners to give all lawmakers quotes based on an hourly rate — Chavez noted it might be illegal to give Democratic lawmakers different rates that he denies to Republicans who voted for HB 2404. He’s also not sure if anyone will take him up on his offers to collect signatures with payment by the hour — of the seven who’ve approached him, none have accepted his quote, at least yet.

“I’m positive a few will have to,” he said. “I’m not waiting by the phone though.”

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