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Nessel: State should consider tightening paid petition circulator rules

Attorney General Dana Nessel

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is calling for tighter rules on professional signature gatherers for petition drives. That’s after her office charged the owners of signature collection firms with felonies last week.

“We should be making every effort to learn from this investigation in order to ensure this never happens again or, at least, to make it much more difficult for bad actors to operate in our state,” she said.

The criminal charges filed against three people won’t help the candidates who are the alleged victims – including five Republicans who hoped to run for governor. The charges allege thousands of signatures were forged with a commission paid for each name.

Willie Reed and Shawn Wilmoth face 27 felony counts while Jamie Wilmoth-Goodin faces 25 charges. Reed has not surrendered and is being pursued by the U.S. Marshalls Service.

The episode has raised questions about the lack of regulation in Michigan over paid signature gathering and the incentives to cheat.

Nessel says regulations could include licensing or regulating petition firms and maybe requiring them to post a financial guarantee that their work is honest and legal.

“Certainly, if they’ve been convicted of fraud or forgery or election law violations,” she said. “We might also want to consider requiring canvassers to be registered with the state or that signature-collection firms be licensed and bonded. There are things we can do.”

Representative Penelope Tsernoglou (D-East Lansing) says she is interested in legislating some solutions. She chairs the House Elections Committee.

“We just need to regulate that more and, you know, find out the ways that this is happening,” she told Michigan Public Radio. “And, personally, I’ve been involved with many signature projects and fraud is very common.”

Tsernoglou says she would like to hold hearings on the subject starting in the fall.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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