A Signature Issue

Pending charges against signature-gathering companies trying to get statewide initiatives on your ballot this November began with people like Stephanie Crader, a 23-year-old woman who’s used to working for minimum wage.

Crader says Bell told her she hadn’t collected enough signatures “and told me, ‘Screw you, you only worked four hours.” Bell couldn’t be reached for comment (he no longer works for B&P and doesn’t have a listed phone number).

She says B&P owner Brian Platt gave her $20 to make things whole but that she later had a similar experience with Platt not paying her the agreed hourly wage.

Platt told WW he has a minimum hourly signature requirement, which workers always meet “unless they are trying to rip you off.”

If Crader is one face of this high-stakes political battle, Platt is another. He’s a 28-year-old high-school dropout who started collecting signatures 10 years ago.

He says he has a knack for organizing crews and training people to collect signatures, and usually employs between 10 and 30 signature gatherers.

State officials are seeking contempt-of-court rulings against Platt and Timothy Trickey, head of another signature-gathering company, for not turning over records in the investigation.

“I’m not into politics so much,” says Platt, who started B&P in 2005 and is now collecting signatures for initiatives backed by Bill Sizemore, the property-rights group Oregonians in Action, and the anti-tax group FreedomWorks. His take on the investigations: “It is all part of the political game.”

As for Crader, now in a Job Corps training program learning office administration and business skills, she says she’d consider collecting signatures again, but only if she gets paid by the hour. Her take: “I’m just trying to pay my bills.”

Crader is among five former B&P Campaign Management employees named as witnesses in a complaint awaiting a ruling by the Oregon secretary of state’s office.

The complaint, filed in December by the union-backed group Our Oregon, alleges that B&P broke state law when it paid workers like Crader by the signature, instead of by the hour.

“It is a difficult job,” says Crader, who gathered signatures for two months last fall for an initiative to elect state judges by district. “People degrade you, ignore you, yell at you.”

But Crader says she at least hoped to get paid the promised $12 per hour, money she needed to pay her bills and rent. She now says her pay got reduced because she didn’t collect enough signatures. If true, that violates Measure 26, a law Oregon voters passed in 2002 to outlaw paying workers based on the number of signatures.

Illegally paid-for signatures can still be counted toward qualifying initiatives for the ballot. But labor unions and other backers of Measure 26 say the law needs to be enforced, contending that paying by the signature encourages voter fraud and cheating.

After collecting about 40 signatures during six hours one day in September, Crader turned them in to Parker Bell, then working for B&P as a consultant. Bell has had previous problems with the secretary of state’s office, which fined him $2,500 for violating Measure 26 in 2004.