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Petition gathering group faces accusations of paying employees per petition

Petition drives get ready for November 2022 ballot
Petition drives get ready for November 2022 ballot(Ellis Wiltsey)
Published: Dec. 21, 2021 at 5:05 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) - A legal battle between backers of a citizen initiative to expand casino gaming and groups with ties to the Seminole Tribe is heating up.

In recent court filing, the defendants accused Grassfire LLC, a plaintiff in the case, of paying its employees based on the number of petitions they collect.

It was just two years ago state lawmakers outlawed the practice.

Under the 2019 law, paying petition circulators based on the number of signatures they collect is first degree misdemeanor.

Representative Mike Beltran was a co-sponsor.

“We don’t allow people to do that because it corrupts the process. Then people have an incentive to fabricate or doctor additional signatures in order to make additional money,” said Beltran.

The new court filings the legal battle between supporters and opponents of a casino gaming citizen initiative suggest the practice hasn’t stopped.

A sample employee contract found on Grassfire LLC’s website offers bonuses for employees as they reach petition benchmarks.

“They say they want core values and the courage to do the right thing and on the face of the document they’re violating the law,” said Beltran.

Rep Beltran argued the intent of the law is clear.

“It doesn’t say if you pay them an hourly wage you can give them a bonus. It doesn’t say that you have to pay them a base hourly wage. It doesn’t say anything… It says you may not compensate them based upon the number of petition forms gathered,” said Beltran.

In the court filing, it’s claimed whistleblowers have reported Grassfire LLC to authorities.

We reached out to the Secretary of State, Attorney General and Florida Elections Commission regarding the accusations, but our inquiries have gone unanswered.

The Governor’s Office declined to weigh in on the specific allegations, but highlighted the Governor’s push for lawmakers to create an election integrity unit in the upcoming legislative session.

“The Governor is absolutely committed to legislation that would empower the Department of State with the resources and personnel to aggressively investigate election-related crimes,” said the Governor’s Press Secretary Christina Pushaw.

We reached out to Florida Voters in Charge, the group sponsoring the citizen initiative Grassfire was collecting signatures for, and received an emailed statement.

“The Defendants’ allegations are meritless, and are nothing more than an attempt to divert attention from their aggressive attempts to prevent Florida voters from having the opportunity to vote to end the Seminole Tribe’s monopoly over Florida casino gaming,” said attorney Jim McKee.

The casino gaming initiative has collected just over 300,000 valid signatures, but that’s still roughly 600,000 shy of the 891,589 signatures needed by February 1st to make the ballot.

A full statement from Florida Voters in Charge can be read below.

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