The mainstream media pick up quickly on the story I broke Sunday about the fake 18%-rate-cap petition being circulated at the Sioux Empire Fair. KSFY, KELO, and Jonathan Ellis provide some important details about the decoy petition that appears to be part of payday lenders’ dirty tricks to sabotage the legitimate petition drive to cap interest rates at 36%.
All three articles tie the fake petition drive to Lisa Furlong, the sponsor of the constitutional amendment currently undergoing review by the Attorney General but not yet approved for legal circulation by the Secretary of State. The fake circulators at the Sioux Empire Fair were unwilling to talk much to the media (there’s a danger sign: anyone circulating a petition should be thrilled to get on camera, talk to the media, and spread the word about his or her cause) and deferred comment to Furlong, who returned no calls (another red flag) but issued this e-mail statement:
First of all, the initiated measure to cap payday lending rates at 18% is just as real as other petitions being circulated and for anyone to suggest otherwise is offensive.
We have a dedicated group of supporters and volunteers that are anxious to get to work and felt that the fair presented a great opportunity to measure support for our effort. The petitions currently being circulated are *advisory petitions*, meant to simply gauge support for our measure and to begin raising awareness for this cause.
We appreciate all the Attorney General’s office is doing to issue a summary statement for our measure in a timely manner and look forward to starting our effort to have it placed on the ballot next November [Lisa Furlong, e-mail statement, KELOLand.com, 2015.08.03].
Now we have the cover story. Furlong isn’t breaking South Dakota Codified Laws 2-1-1.1 or other statutes pertaining to initiative petitions because her lackeys aren’t circulating an initiative petition; they are circulating an “advisory” petition. KELO notices that the fake circulators have added signs to their fair booth to advertise this cover story.
Permit me to continue “offending” Furlong: her petition is fake. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs agrees with me, telling KELO that there’s no such thing as an “advisory” petition in state statute.
The only thing “real” about an “advisory” petition is that her dupes have pieces of paper on which they are collecting signatures. But in the way South Dakotans understand petitions, those “advisory” petitions have no legal force. They don’t even contain the language of the measure voters think they are signing for, which leads to the distinct possibility of fraud. Consider, singers: when the reverse side of the sheet you sign is blank, what’s stopping those circulators from taking those sheets back to the office and xeroxing onto the blank side legal language about an entirely different proposal, or even a payday loan that you didn’t know you were signing up for?
Now that we know these fake circulators represent Lisa Furlong, we can tie them to the language of Furlong’s proposed constitutional amendment, which includes two important provisions that demonstrate the ill intent behind this fake petition:
- Furlong’s petition allows lenders to exceed the proposed 18% rate cap as long as they get borrowers to sign a contract specifying the higher rate, which renders the “18% rate cap” meaningless.
- Furlong’s petition creates a constitutional amendment that outlaws any statutory cap, meaning it would annul the legitimate proposal to cap interest rates for payday lenders at 36%
I reported those trick clauses on July 13. Only Ellis mentions Furlong’s rate-cap opt-out clause. None of the reports mention the politically weedy constitutional amendment–initiated law distinction.
Ellis also beats KELO and KSFY by pointing out that the legitimate petitioners, South Dakotans for Responsible Lending, have filed a complaint with Attorney General Marty Jackley contending that Furlong’s group, South Dakotans for Fair Lending, is “illegally circulating petitions to defraud voters.” Even if the sheets of paper themselves are not technically legal, the intent of the action, to create confusion and sabotage a legitimate petition drive, are an illegal attempt to defraud and disenfranchise voters.
Furlong’s fake petition poses a threat to all legitimate South Dakota petitioners. Furlong’s fake circulators are sowing distrust and hostility in the political marketplace. By circulating sheets that carry a signature grid formatted just like official ballot petitions, Furlong’s fake circulators are forcing voters who want their signature to count to be more suspicious of anyone circulating a petition and making it harder for honest petitioners to obtain the signatures they need to place legitimate laws and candidates on the ballot.
Whether or not Attorney General Jackley can find a statute under which to prosecute Furlong and her fakers, whether or not the Sioux Empire Fair management takes action to remove these disruptive fraudsters from their grounds, the media have an obligation to educate the public and protect the democratic process. Every South Dakota media outlet should publish this information:
The 18%-rate-cap petition sponsored by Lisa Furlong and South Dakotans for Fair Lending is a fake. It isn’t a real petition, and with its opt-out contract clause, it isn’t even promoting a real rate cap; if it were approved, it would abolish rate caps.
The 36%-rate-cap petition sponsored by Steve Hildebrand, Steve Hickey, and South Dakotans for Responsible Lending is real. The law this real petition proposes really caps payday lending rates at 36%. The petition says “36%” and has two sides. The people circulating that real petition won’t be afraid to tell you their names and give you information about the 36% rate cap. Your signature on the 36%-rate-cap petition will count.