USA – Back in 2010, a broad coalition of residents, firefighters, public officials and police officers attempted to place an initiative on the ballot that would change how our government worked. This effort to remake our city and return power to the people was supported by the police and fire unions, as well as the Republican and Green Parties.
Not every day do you find labor unions and nearly diametrically opposed political parties joining forces. Yet, even with that broad support, we found it tough to gather the nearly 15,000 signatures of registered voters that would be needed to place the issue on the ballot.
In order to gather the signatures necessary, this coalition contracted with Shawn Wilmoth, president of Signature Masters, to help us in our attempt to gather the high number of signatures needed in our moderately sized town.
That is where this effort turned into a debacle. Thousands of signatures were thrown out because the hired company was employing convicted felons. In Virginia at that time, convicted felons could not vote, and since you must be a registered voter to have ballot petitions signed, they were tossed.
After it was all said and done, two additional people, including Shawn Wilmoth, were charged with fraud. It turns out that convicted felons were instructed by Wilmoth to lie on affidavits that they were eligible to collect signatures.
Now, you may be wondering why this matters to you in Ohio. Recently, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published an article regarding Wilmoth’s effort on behalf of a campaign in Ohio. He is working as a lead signature gather consultant to overturn Ohio House Bill 6.
It is concerning that any effort, anywhere, would hire this man. Usually, when a person is convicted of a felony specific to a field like campaigns and elections, they do not stay in that field. It means they are a bad actor, they do not follow the rules, they and should not be part of an electioneering team.
In Virginia, Shawn worked to employ felons on their effort. It should be of concern that if he was willing to do that here, he may look to employ other questionable folks in your neighborhood. I am not sure of Ohio’s laws, but employing felons to go door-to-door collecting signatures in neighborhoods is a recipe for disaster.
What we found out in the Arlington process was that our volunteers, who were working to better our city, were fantastic people committed to the cause. They were respectful and worked hard to get signatures, and most of the signatures came back certified.
On the other hand, the shady paid petitioners did not really care about the issue and were only worried about their per-signature payment. They are inclined to make up signatures, go through the phone book for names and mislead signers, just to make a few more dollars for the day.
After following that campaign, I learned a thing or two about how to be successful in petition efforts. Have a good issue, have volunteers that care, and do not rely on shady consultants that are in it for the money – not the cause.
Since then, I ask every petitioner I come across whether they are being paid for their effort or not. If they are volunteering, I sign it. If they are being paid, I wonder about their motives and the motives of their employer.
Take my word for it and beware of paid petitioners as this issue heats up.
S John Massoud is a former member of the Arlington County Republican Party’s Executive Committee and was a two-time Republican nominee for the House of Delegates from Arlington Virginia.