Supporters of a city of San Diego pension reform initiative already are involved in a bitter signature gathering campaign against labor-backed opponents. Now, add another wrinkle.
The campaign is using the same signature gathering firm, the La Jolla Group, that failed to get enough valid signatures for last year's City Hall outsourcing initiative and this year's school reform initiative. Both initiatives suffered from massive unexplained signature problems. That meant backers wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars for ballot measures voters never saw. The schools initiative, sponsored by an organization called San Diegans 4 Great Schools, learned it didn't qualify for the ballot Monday night.
The pension reform campaign, said committee chairman T.J. Zane, already had taken precautions to make sure a signature snafu wouldn't happen to them, too. City Councilman Carl DeMaio was behind the outsourcing initiative and he's a key backer of the pension campaign. Prompted by the failure of DeMaio's initiative, the pension committee decided to pay a firm to check all the signatures' validity before they have to turn them in to the City Clerk for verification.
"The decision to go 100 percent verification was vindicated within the last 24 hours," said Zane, who is also president of the Lincoln Club.
That decision comes at a price. Zane wouldn't provide the exact cost of gathering signatures, but said the verification added a 15 percent to 20 percent premium. San Diegans 4 Great Schools paid the La Jolla Group $300,000 to gather signatures, according to their most recent campaign filings, and Zane said it was fair to estimate the pension campaign's bill based on that figure.
Zane said the campaign hired a firm called National Data Services to do signature verification. Zane wouldn't disclose where the firm was based and said it would be hard to find.
"I wouldn't put it past opponents of it to steal petitions," he said.
Zane said he's worked with the La Jolla Group's owner Bobby Glaser on a successful campaign in the past, a 2005 measure related to the Mt. Soledad cross.
Zane said there aren't many signature gathering firms in San Diego.
"They're basically cat herders," he said. "They're herding independent contractors."
Backers of the measure have until Oct. 16 to collect 94,346 valid signatures to make the ballot. The signature verification would allow the campaign to know if they had met their mark, Zane said.
"We're going to know weeks before we have to turn in the signatures to the clerk's office whether we're going to have enough signatures to qualify."
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