Jailing of petition rights advocate threatens free speech

NEWS BULLETIN: This case impacts your free speech rights

Oct. 2nd, three people were indicted in Oklahoma, accused of committing fraud against the state. One of those arrested was Paul Jacob who has spent much of his life promoting petition rights and advocating for term limits around the country (He also recently spoke the Executive Club last year). What were their nefarious acts? Apparently they encouraged non-residents to move to Oklahoma to circulate initiative petitions. Unlike most states, Oklahoma requires petition circulators to become residents, however no one was exactly sure what that meant in this context.

Not even the Oklahoma State Elections Board could be trusted when it informed them that any US citizen could become a resident by entering Oklahoma with intent to reside. Since “intent” is highly personal thing (it exists in your mind) one would assume that you could take a person’s word once they swear that they have it. So when circulators from neighboring states wanted to work in Oklahoma, each had to acknowledge that they knew about the residency requirement, swearing their intent to become Oklahoma residents.

Previous Oklahoma initiative petition campaigns (such as the union-driven minimum wage increase measure) had used circulators who claimed residency upon moving into Oklahoma (no polygraph required), but were not threatened with prosecution. The difference may be that the Oklahoma 3 worked on a measure opposed by the Attorney General (the Oklahoma Tabor Spending Limit) and he saw an opportunity to send a message.

So, several months after the petition drive, in a union-driven challenge to a petition, it was found that some of the petition circulators had since left the state. Now Oklahoma doesn’t have a “durational residency requirement” for voting so it is not clear why this should have been a problem (you can register to vote in OK even if you plan to leave the day after the election),. Nevertheless, such requirements were imposed on petition circulators and their declarations of intent to become residents were regarded as invalid. This ruse allowed Oklahoma courts to void tens of thousands of (otherwise legitimate) signatures and thereby prevent Oklahomans from voting on the measure.

Not satisfied with simply thwarting the will Oklahoma voters, the Attorney General spent the next year conducting a witch hunt against the Oklahoma 3 before two grand juries before gaining indictments last week. The chief petitioner was charged with a felony for turning in signatures gathered by people who were not in fact residents (even though they swore otherwise). The petition company president was charged with a felony for hiring people who were insincere about their residency intentions. And one poor soul was charged with a felony for just encouraging people from other states to circulate (as residents) in Oklahoma – that “poor soul” is Paul Jacob.

Oklamhoma State Senator Randy Brogdon made this statement:

Brogdon said the only crime committed was the disenfranchisement of over 300,000 Oklahoma voters who expressed their voice by exercising their Constitutional rights. “It appears Drew Edmondson [Attorney General] is more concerned with protecting his own political power than he is with preserving, protecting, and defending the right of Oklahomans to free speech,” Brogdon added. “This is nothing less than an attack on our Republican form of government.”

Here is a statement by Paul Jacob:

This indictment unsealed today is not about the law, but rather 100 percent politically motivated. This is politics””very ugly politics. 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.

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. Oklahomans, your attorney general is not practicing democracy. He is practicing the politics of destruction. It won’t work.

This indictment will not stand. I will fight it with every fiber of my being. And I know that, in the end, those who misuse the power of their office for political advantage, employing ugly and un-democratic tactics, will ultimately face an indictment of their own. My life, my family, my children are being threatened here”¦for what? For what?

I have committed no crime. Unless the heartfelt desire to place government under the control of its citizens is now illegal. But this cannot be so. There is much bluster in this indictment. Yet what is my actual offense but that of daring to help Oklahoma voters hold an election to decide an issue? No, I don’t deserve to go to prison for being politically active. I know that. You know that. Mr. Edmondson should know that, too.

The State of Oklahoma threatens me and others with prison to prevent our involvement in political life and to chill the speech and assembly of others who might wish to become involved. Involved in working to hold an election. To give Oklahomans a vote on an issue. One might expect this kind of repression in Egypt or Iran or China. But not Oklahoma…

For more information on what happened (and how you can help) go to www.FreePaulJacob.com.