Repair California envisions the convention as a rare opportunity for Californians to reshape certain aspects of state government. After an extensive meeting, convention delegates would ask voters to approve suggested tweaks to California's constitution. Proponents say issues begging for reform include the Legislature's two-thirds majority vote requirement to pass a budget, government efficiency, the election process, and the initiative process itself.
"In California today ... you basically need to get 1 million signatures in 150 days or less" to get an initiative on the ballot, Grubb said. "And the only way to do that is with several million dollars in your checking account, which is something most average citizens don't have. That means that the initiative process has in effect been captured by special interest groups — moneyed interests."
Therein lies the rub. It would be virtually impossible for Repair California to get a call for a constitutional convention on the November 2010 ballot without paying people to collect signatures — but many paid signature gatherers are afraid of putting themselves out of business by circulating the petition. Some are worried about getting blacklisted by major firms, while others are concerned that the entire industry could be overhauled as a result of a constitutional convention.
Given the serious allegations and potential lawsuit surrounding this matter, only Grubb and Miller were willing to be quoted for this story. Yet sources on both sides of the issue did speak with the Guardian on condition of anonymity.
Grubb said that Repair California never sought contracts from the big signature-gathering firms, preferring instead to amass its own force of clipboard-wielding petitioners. "We never had the intention of going to them," he said.
But an industry insider told the Guardian that the nonprofit did approach two of the major companies to sign a contract, but got turned down due to a consensus that the petition would lead to an overhaul of the industry. This person also suggested that the pending lawsuit was way off the mark, and speculated that Repair California was concocting it to try and win money, media attention, and public support.
Another person familiar with the industry put it this way: "None of the petition people wanted to carry it because it would slit their own throats. They all agreed not to do it — it could kill the goose that laid the golden egg."
So far, the campaign for a constitutional convention has gathered only about 100,000 of the 1.1 million signatures needed by the end of April to qualify for the November ballot. It will have to spend an estimated $1 million more than anticipated, Grubb said, because many of the paid petition circulators are being brought in from outside California's initiative-industry network.
Despite the extra cost, Grubb says he feels confident the campaign will be a success. "Popularity hasn't been a problem," he said, "except for with the signature gathering firms."