This morning, after dropping my kids off at their schools, I stopped by Alameda's South Shore [Somewhat Big Box] Center to grab some groceries — and my encounter with two different signature gatherers was a quick view into how their business is no more and no less than a business.

Signature gatherer #1

While locking my bike up outside Trader Joe's a fellow called from a nearby table, Good morning, you have a minute? He was a signature gatherer, sitting at a small card table, with a black-and-white sign: RECALL DA PAMELA PRICE added in color at the top of the list. AUTHORIZE ALTERNATIVE TREATMENT FOR DEPRESSION, BETTER HEALTHCARE FOR VETERANS, MEDICAL CANNABIS THERAPY RESEARCH, AND MUSHROOM: PSYCHICAL THERAPY RESEARCH followed on the sign. The fellow was black. [I mention this because I'll mention the race of the other signature gatherer shortly.]

I'm naturally suspicious of anyone with a clipboard outside a store, but I was curious and couldn't help myself. What a odd combination of potential ballot items. It would take me a few minutes to finish locking my bike, so I said: I'm not going to sign or argue with you, but I'm curious. How much are you being paid per signature for the DA recall?

In the case of the second successful attempt to get a recall of San Francisco's duly elected progressive District Attorney on to the ballot, that campaign apparently paid nearly $12 for each signature.

He was relaxed. He had time as well. I'm not paid by the recall campaign. I'm only paid for the psychedelic mushroom campaign. The guy over by Safeway is being paid by the recall campaign; why don't you go ask him how much he's getting.

I chuckled, expressed a bit of surprise, and wished him a good day. [I also took a picture of his sign listing his assortment of items.] As best I can interpret, he was using the DA recall as a way to lure in potential signers. Perhaps while they were signing the DA recall form he could also pitch them on his next items. It didn't matter that the topics had little to do with each other — he just needed to identify people likely to sign forms to help qualify something, anything, for a ballot in California. He was just trying to maximize his success with his targets; just operating his own little business.

I went in to Trader Joe's to buy my stuff.

While leaving Trader Joe's I saw an elderly white woman signing a form at the fellow's table. His relaxed and calm approach did seem to attract some target customers.

Signature gatherer #2

After loading up, I couldn't help but leave by way of the neighboring Safeway. Chatting with Signature Gatherer #1 was kind of interesting. For all I know, he was lying to me, but still it was somewhat fascinating to try to figure out his business model. So what was Signature Gatherer #2's shtick?

As I passed Safeway, saw the second fellow — a white man, surrounded by many more larger signs, all about a potential DA recall (not any other topics).

He saw me passing, and said something to the effect of Come over and help recall the DA.

Not here to argue, I replied. But how much you being paid per signature?

He was quick, sharp, and quiet in his reply: This is my business and I don't have to tell you that! Then he got much louder so others could hear: George Soros shouldn't tell us who to have as our DA!

I'm not here to argue, is more or less what I then replied — and I meant it, and I left. A couple people had arrived at his table and I think one started asking for a form to sign as I left. His maximalist approach did seem to attract some target customers.

It's just about the money

Whatever one may actually feel about Alameda County's duly elected progressive District Attorney, this aspect is hard to deny: all of the people collecting signatures to qualify a potential recall for the ballot sure look just like business operators trying to maximize their target "customer base."

Some may be relaxed and friendly and encompassing of an oddly huge range of political topics like Signature Gatherer #1; others may be loud, in-your-face, and surprisingly quick to drop what could be construed as an antisemitic reference like Signature Gatherer #2. The market, in effect, adapts and maximizes the possible number of signatures that can be gathered to qualify the hot topic du jour to ballots. Democracy as practiced at the state and local levels is reasonably robust in California, but in this specific regard of paid signature gathering, it's awfully broken.

Why is this practice legal? I did some searching and found that State Senator Josh Newman introduced legislation to ban pay-per-signature incentives; the state legislature passed it; but Governor Newsom vetoed it.

Signature gathering in California is no more than a money-making enterprise