LOS ANGELES (CN) — Voters accused the California Republican Party on Tuesday of fraudulently collecting signatures on a recall petition against first-term Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman by falsely claiming the measure would repeal a gasoline tax.
The defendants’ “nefarious” signature-gathering campaign was “the largest voter fraud scheme in the State of California in recent history,” the plaintiffs say in their Superior Court complaint.
They also sued the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, claiming it spent at least $50,000 “in furtherance of the scheme to defraud the voters of the twenty-ninth senate district,” two individuals, and National Petition Management Inc., of Michigan.
The individual defendants are former Assemblywoman Young Kim, R-Orange County, and Linette Choi, a legislative aide to Assemblyman Phillip Chen, R-Diamond Bar.
The late Howard Jarvis was an anti-tax crusader who led the drive for Proposition 13 in 1978, which capped California property tax increases.
Lead plaintiff Debra Louise and three others, all of Los Angeles County, claim the California Republican Party and others “devised a bait-and-switch scheme to intentionally deceive voters into signing a petition which they were misled to believe” would repeal a new 12-cents-a-gallon gas tax “when, in fact, the petition had one, sole purpose: to recall Senator Newman.”
Newman narrowly won election in November to represent a traditionally Republican district that includes parts of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. His surprise victory gave Democrats a two-thirds majority in the Senate. With a matching majority in the Assembly, Democrats now are able to raise taxes without any Republican support.
Newman joined colleagues in April to pass a $5.2 billion annual increase in gas taxes and vehicle fees, to repair the state’s battered roads and bridges. In June, he was part of the supermajority that adopted a $183 billion budget, the state’s largest ever.
Republicans saw Newman, who won his seat with just under 50.4 percent of the vote, as vulnerable. Weeks after the April gas tax vote, they launched the recall campaign, and by late August had collected more than 66,000 valid signatures, more than enough to put the question on the ballot.
Newman supporters fought back, filing a June lawsuit in Sacramento seeking a court order blocking the recall.
Democrats in the Legislature tacked a change in requirements for recall elections onto a minor budget trailer bill. The changes would have delayed any Newman recall election until next year, but a state appellate court temporarily delayed implementation of the law.
In the new complaint, Louise et al. say the recall campaign collected its qualifying signatures by deceit. They ran “a pervasive advertising campaign” — including ads, signs, flyers, social media posts and opinion pieces — encouraging people to “Stop the Gas Tax.”
Trained signature-gatherers snagged voters at home and outside stores to tell them that “the tax is the root of all of their financial problems … when, in truth, signing the petition will have absolutely no impact on the ‘gas tax,’” the lawsuit states.
The plaintiffs are represented by Kevin I. Shenkman of Malibu, a former big-firm patent attorney who in the past few years has made a name for himself challenging at-large voting for city councils and county boards. The Los Angeles Times said he is “is upending California’s political system, one town at a time,” while right-wing Breitbart news said he is “ending democracy as we know it.”
Louise et al. say they would not have signed the recall petition had they known its true purpose. They also say the recall campaign was funded by “outside monied interests,” including Chevron oil.
They also complain that while Newman won his seat during a very high-turnout presidential election, a special recall election would bring out relatively few voters.
“It defies the fundamental principles of our democracy to allow a small number of voters in a low-turnout off-cycle election to supersede the will of a larger group,” they say in the complaint. “To do so would be an injustice and constitutes a gross misuse of California’s recall process.”
They seek nominal and compensatory damages, and punitive damages for fraud.