Is the California Constitutional Convention campaign getting blacklisted?

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By Rebecca Bowe
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Repair California, a nonprofit organization leading the charge for a California constitutional convention, is preparing a lawsuit against signature gathering firms that it claims are illegally boycotting the campaign. The nonprofit hasn't divulged exactly which firms it is going after.

In a letter sent yesterday to a signature-gathering company whose name was redacted, an attorney with the firm Hanson Bridgett charges that the company is part of a statewide boycott against Repair California. The letter also states that there is evidence that people acting on behalf of the company engaged in “dirty tricks” like intimidation tactics and throwing away petitions containing valid signatures.

Repair California is circulating petitions to gather enough signatures to ask voters on the November 2010 ballot if the state’s constitution should be opened up for revision at a statewide convention, the first time in 130 years that such a meeting would be called.

The Bay Area Council, a business group, is the driver behind the push for a constitutional convention. The idea has been endorsed by organizations across the political spectrum united by their conviction that California’s government is broken. A top priority for the campaign is to change the two-thirds majority vote requirement that makes it exceedingly difficult for the California Legislature to raise taxes and pass a state budget.

A letter prepared by Attorney Steve D. Miller on behalf of Repair California explains that the campaign tried to tap several different signature-gathering firms to circulate petitions, but the firms refused. Repair California has “reason to believe” that the refusal stemmed from an organized boycott against the campaign, the letter states, which drove up the price for the nonprofit's signature gathering efforts.

“Their motivation is uncertain, but they are closely and undeniably tied with interest groups in Sacramento,” Repair California communications director John Grubb wrote in a widely disseminated email. “They have also cited fears about reform of the initiative process itself.”

Here’s an excerpt from the letter, prepared by Attorney Steven D. Miller:

We write to warn you to immediately stop engaging in a pattern of conduct that is not only in violation of State and Federal Antitrust law, but that also violates our client's Constitutional rights. A failure to immediately cease these unacceptable activities will result in our taking appropriate legal steps to protect our client's rights. To qualify its ballot measures for the ballot, Repair California has attempted to engage the services of several petition gathering firms and the firms have refused. We have reason to believe your firm has agreed with other State-wide signature gathering firms to boycott Repair California's business. … In addition, we believe that people actually or apparently acting on your behalf are engaged in behavior intended to threaten and intimidate persons who are circulating petitions for Repair California.