Big Bucks for Redundant Idea and Mystery Signature Firm

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The first ballot measure to qualify for November’s ballot comes in the form of a proposed ban on real estate transfer fees, backed by the Oregon Realtors Association.

Jeff Mapes at the Oregonian reports: “The Oregon Legislature has already prohibited localities from levying new real estate transfer fees.  But Realtors said they wanted to ensure that the Legislature would not turn to this form of taxation.” 

In other words, the initiative would ban something that’s already not allowed by Oregon law. Despite that, the Realtors campaign spent nearly $1 million to gather signatures and qualify their initiative.

How does that compare to other initiative petition campaigns?

In 2010, two casino measures spent what many expected to be “the most expensive” initiative campaign, with a combined $1.2 million towards signature gatherers. Sounds like a lot, until you realize that they gathered signatures for two measures for nearly the same amount as the Realtors initiative campaign for one.

The big question on the Realtors initiative, then, is who is getting paid? The petition committee has never identified who was running their paid signature operation, but instead merely noted various in-kind donations. This not only made it difficult to determine what percentage of their $1 million initiative petition campaign was spent on signature gathering, it also raises concerns about transparency. Who ran the Realtor’s signature gathering campaign?

Luckily, we have a couple of great big hints that point directly to Mark Nelson, the corporate lobbyist who represents tobacco companies and led the campaign against Measures 66 and 67.

Back in August 2011, The Oregonian reported: “Nelson and other fellow business interests have started a non-profit firm called The Signature Gathering Company of Oregon.  It’s first big client is a proposed initiative from the Oregon Association of Realtors that would ban new real-estate transfer fees.”

Assuming that most of the $1 million in campaign spending has gone to signature gathering, that’s a pretty big payday for a company’s first major gig.

The Signature Gathering Company of Oregon, in addition to carrying the Realtor’s petition, carried Initiative Petition 3, the now-defunct anti-union, anti-charity petition. The company was also hired to lead the unsuccessful canvassing efforts for former Representative Mike Schaufler.

Considering the company they’re now keeping, the men and women who work as realtors in Oregon may now find themselves wondering just what they’ve gotten themselves into – all to ban a policy that does not exist…

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