October 2 was a sad day for liberty. In fact, the events of October 2 were more than sad-they were just plain outrageous.
If you haven’t already heard, October 2 was the day three citizens-Paul Jacob (Citizens in Charge President and Sam Adams Alliance Senior Advisor), Susan Johnson (National Voter Outreach President), and Rick Carpenter (of Oklahomans in Action)-were indicted in a dirty political ploy directed by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
On paper, the charges are “conspiracy to defraud the state” because of a baseless claim that they-the “Oklahoma Three”-violated an Oklahoma statute requiring petition circulators to be residents while they were working on a Taxpayer Bill of Rights petition during the summer of 2006. (Carpenter was also charged with filing a false, fraudulent, felonious, and fictitious initiative petition.)
On paper, that is. But this outrageous and baseless indictment is really about the fact that the Oklahoma Three dared to use their First Amendment right to petition the government. The indictment is about suppressing the citizen initiative process-at least when the people in charge don’t like the politics of the initiatives.
Let’s back up to discuss the so-called charges.
In 2005, Oklahomans in Action launched a campaign to put a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) measure on the November 2006 ballot. The measure would have put a cap on state spending increases, giving voters and taxpayers-instead of politicians-the power to override the cap.
Paul Jacob, as an advisor to the campaign, helped Oklahomans In Action find a petition company-National Voter Outreach, which had conducted many successful petition drives in Oklahoma in the past-and monitored the campaign’s progress.
It turned out that opposition groups would go to great lengths to prevent taxpayers from having a say in the spending of their own tax dollars-including paying thugs to block voters from signing petitions. These “blockers” even lied to grocery store managers, saying that the petitioners had cursed them out or treated them rudely, in order to get petitioners removed from the areas where they were circulating petitions
Needless to say, this made the petitioners’ jobs incredibly difficult, and it was hard to recruit enough petitioners to continue the campaign.
However, the petition company learned that under Oklahoma’s residency statute, people could move to Oklahoma, immediately declare residency, and thus qualify to begin circulating a petition. National Voter Outreach confirmed this information with officials on both the State Election Board and in the Secretary of State’s office. This information was also consistent with the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling in a previous case challenging a 2001 petition drive on the basis of residency.
Therefore, National Voter Outreach acted on this information, based on confirmation from state officials, and more than enough signatures were collected to put the TABOR measure on the ballot.
But, of course, the opposition wasn’t finished yet.
The measure was challenged on signatures and constitutionality, and was eventually thrown off the ballot. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that those moving to Oklahoma to gather signatures were not residents, and charged that there was fraud involved in the signature collecting because of these “out-of-state” petitioners, despite the fact that this practice was approved by state officials themselves.
And now, more than a year later, the Okalahoma Attorney General has gone even further by bringing felony indictments against Jacob, Johnson, and Carpenter, who could serve 10 years or more in prison if found guilty.
“The highest legal office in the state of Oklahoma seems bent on silencing citizens through harassment and intimidation, threats and coercion. The goal is to silence me, and to frighten you, from petitioning our government,” Jacob said in a statement. “Those who attempt to put citizens in charge of government spending decisions, through initiatives like the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or any other issue that rankles the powerful political forces of a state, can expect to face an onslaught by the full powers of the government. This is yet another round in the age-old attempt to stop ideas by force, by harassment, by imprisonment, by anything except a better idea.”
The good news is that the Oklahoma Three aren’t taking this lying down. They are fighting it, and spreading the word widely-because, as Tim at FreePaulJacob.com writes, “when Americans are indicted, put in hand-cuffs and leg-irons, and face ten years in prison for exercising their right to petition the government, everyone should hear about it.”
Even better news: bloggers, Facebookers, and others are lining up to express their support for these three. We hope you will, too.
“We the People will not be intimidated,” Jacob said. “We will keep fighting to turn out-of-control government into government that is under citizen control. We will defeat this vicious attempt to criminalize honest political activity. And in the end, we will win.”
The Sam Adams Alliance connects and supports citizen leaders throughout the country who are working to advance the causes of government accountability and transparency. Paul Jacob is a senior fellow at the organization, and authors the radio and Internet commentary program Common Sense with Paul Jacob.