California asked to investigate group running identity-fraud ad

The state attorney general and California's campaign watchdog agency have been asked to investigate a new labor-backed group telling voters that signing initiative petitions increases risk of identity fraud.

Carl DeMaio, a San Diego councilman supporting an effort to qualify a local pension-reform measure, sent a complaint letter over the weekend to the Fair Political Practices Commission.

He alleges that Californians Against Identity Theft is running afoul of state disclosure laws and "knowingly using false information to alarm voters and stifle the constitutionally protected rights of individuals" in the radio spots and website it launched last week.

In a separate letter, DeMaio asked state Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate the ad and other activities he said are "undermining the initiative process" for San Diego voters.

As The Sacramento Bee reported Friday, the organization behind the ads has received funding from the California Building and Construction Trades Council. The secretary-treasurer of the group, a retired attorney with ties to the union, declined to identify other contributors Friday. He said Californians Against Identity Theft, which has not filed as a campaign committee, has been incorporated as a 501(c)4 nonprofit.

Californians Against Identity Theft attorney Lance Olson said in response to the letters that the organization is "operating appropriately and legally."

Californians Against Identity Theft's 60-second radio ad, which is airing on stations in Sacramento and Southern California, urges listeners not to sign initiative petitions.

Organizers say the effort is intended to educate the public about a need for more regulation of the initiative system, particularly the paid signature-gathering industry.

But the ad came under fire Friday from good-government and consumer advocates, who said its claims were largely unsubstantiated.

The timing sparked questions about whether the real goal of the campaign is to derail efforts to qualify measures circulating for local or statewide elections.

Kevin Dayton, a lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors of California, said he believes the union is targeting three local measures to ban project labor agreements that typically favor unionized workers for publicly funded projects, including an effort seeking to qualify in Sacramento.

"It's completely deceptive," Dayton said of the ad and anonymous fliers he said are being distributed at grocery stores.

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