Indictment Hits Out-Of-State Petition Effort

Monday, October 8th 2007, 9:26 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Using out-of-state residents to circulate initiative petitions in Oklahoma can be risky business. Ask three people indicted on felony charges by the state's multicounty grand jury.

The indictments, handed down last week, were followed by sharp criticism of Attorney General Drew Edmondson. The state official is fighting back, saying he is only following the law.

Paul Jacob of Virginia, a national leader of the term limit movement, and Susan Johnson of Michigan, the head of National Voter Outreach _ a signature-gathering company _ were led out of an Oklahoma County district court in handcuffs, along with Rick Carpenter of Tulsa, the director of Oklahomans In Action.

The three were charged with conspiracy to defraud the state by using petition circulators who are not state residents to collect signatures for the so-called taxpayer bill of rights, or TABOR, in 2006.

Carpenter, whose organization filed the initiative petition, also was accused of a second felony of violating state law governing petition drives.

``We view this charge as very serious,'' said Assistant Attorney General Joel-Lyn McCormick. ``Oklahomans are supposed to decide for Oklahomans, not people from Minnesota or Massachusetts or Nevada or the numerous other places where circulators were brought in from.''

Jacob is former executive director of U.S. Term Limits, the group that in the 1990s helped fund and organize petition drives that led to voter approval in several states of proposals to limit the terms of both lawmakers and members of Congress.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it is unconstitutional to restrict the terms of members of Congress. Term-limit laws for legislators also have been overturned in some states, but not Oklahoma, the first state to impose such a law.

Jacob was indignant as he was led to the booking area, calling the charges an attack on the right of citizens to petition their government.

State Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, was out of state but issued a statement through the media division of the Oklahoma Senate condemning the indictments.

Brogdon, who supports TABOR, said the indictments were ``a shameful political assault'' and ``an outrage.''

Edmondson rejected that criticism, saying: ``If the laws are not on the books, they can point that out to the courts. If the laws are unconstitutional, they can challenge them.

``In the meantime, we expect the laws to be followed and we will take action when they are violated.''

He said the grand jury indictments had nothing to do with politics.

``The indictments were handed down by grand jurors who came from every corner of Oklahoma. None of them work for the attorney general. They are citizens.

``If Sen. Brogdon wants to change the laws, he is in a perfect place to do it, but I think it is irresponsible for any lawmaker to ask law enforcement to ignore the very laws that the Oklahoma Legislature has on the books. I will be watching to see if he offers a repealer in the next session of the Legislature.''

The Oklahoma Supreme Court, in throwing out the petition last December, accusing organizers of ``outright fraud'' in the way the signature-gathering campaign was conducted.

The TABOR petition sought to limit the growth of government to a formula. It was similar to a plan approved in Colorado, but later suspended after the state had problems financing higher education and other services.

The indictment accused Jacob, Johnson and Carpenter of ``willfully, corruptly, deceitfully, fraudulently and feloniously'' conspiring with each other to defraud the state through the collection of signatures on the TABOR petition.

It said the defendants brought out-of-state circulators to Oklahoma ``temporarily for no other reason other than to circulate the TABOR petition.'' Many signed certificates that they were Oklahoma residents when they were not, the indictment said.

Yes on Term Limits, a group that wants to use out-of-state circulators for a petition drive to restrict the terms of several state officials, has served notice it will appeal a recent federal district court decision upholding the Oklahoma law.

``The will of the people is being denied,'' said James Dunn, the group's chairman.

``We've had the initiative and referendum since statehood and there have been a number of changes to both statutes and the (Oklahoma) Constitution through that process without using out-of-state groups who ignore our laws,'' Edmondson said.