Betsy Johnson hired petition circulators from Craigslist to qualify for Oregon governor race

Johnson has paid more than $200,000 to Washington-based Initiative & Referendum Campaign Management Services

By: - August 12, 2022 6:04 pm

Initiative & Referendum Campaign Management Services used Craigslist to hire petition circulators for Betsy Johnson’s campaign for governor. (Screenshot)

Betsy Johnson has counted on her “Betsy Brigades,” groups of volunteers circulating petitions, to gather the nearly 24,000 signatures she needs as a nonaffiliated gubernatorial candidate to make it on the November ballot.

But she also paid a Washington-based signature gathering firm more than $200,000 to collect signatures for her campaign, state campaign finance records show. 

“We support job creation and giving people a real choice in elections,” spokeswoman Jennifer Sitton said in an email response to questions about the use of paid signature gatherers. 

Johnson has until Tuesday, Aug. 16, to submit at least 23,744 valid signatures from Oregon voters to the Secretary of State’s Office, and she has spent the past week urging supporters to return signature sheets to her campaign office by Saturday, Aug. 13.

At least some of those signatures, though, will be gathered not by Johnson superfans but by petition circulators who may have been hired off Craigslist. Initiative & Referendum Campaign Management Services, the Washington-based firm Johnson enlisted to help her gather signatures, posted more than 75 Craigslist job ads over the past month seeking petition circulators. 

The ads offered full-time pay of $1,000 weekly or part-time pay of $25 per hour.

“This is the perfect opportunity for you to get your foot in the door for an exciting, high profile, big energy and rewarding campaign,” said a sample ad from Tillamook. “Betsy Johnson is fighting the establishment and fighting for the people of Oregon with a very meaningful campaign a head (sic) of her.”

The company estimated that campaigns should budget between $3.75 and $5 per signature. Johnson’s payment should be enough for 41,000 and 55,000 signatures, using those parameters. 

Most candidates for state office don’t have to collect signatures – they pay a filing fee of between $25 and $150 and compete in a primary election or nominating convention of a minor party. But candidates who run without a party affiliation need to gather signatures from voters.

People seeking to make or repeal laws through the initiative or referendum process also must collect signatures, though they must gather far more than prospective candidates and face more obstacles when paying petition circulators. This election cycle, supporters needed to gather more than 112,000 signatures for new laws created by initiative, almost 75,000 to refer laws passed by the Legislature to the ballot and more than 149,000 to amend the Oregon Constitution. 

Supporters of initiatives and referendums also have to file statements with the Secretary of State’s Office indicating whether they’ll pay any petition circulators and include a bold-faced notice on petition forms stating that some circulators are paid. Candidates aren’t required to do so. 

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway is the Capital Chronicle's deputy editor and lead political reporter. Before joining the Capital Chronicle in 2021, she was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix and reported on local and state government and politics in Iowa, Nebraska and Bend. An award-winning journalist, Julia also serves as president of the Oregon Legislative Correspondents Association, or Capitol press corps.