Politicians Protecting Politicians

You’ve got to love the state of Oklahoma. To “protect” its citizens from organizing against the established political order, Oklahoma bars out-of-state residents from gathering signatures for ballot campaigns.

Thus, last week the state arrested Rick Carpenter, president of Oklahomans in Action, who was working with Susan Johnson (from Michigan), president of National Voter Outreach, and Paul Jacob (from Virginia), of Citizens in Charge for conspiracy and fraud. The alleged crime? Attempting to qualify a taxpayer bill of rights for a vote of the people of Oklahoma.

Reports the Tulsa World:

A multicounty grand jury indictment unsealed Tuesday in Oklahoma County District Court names three key figures in the failed effort to put a taxpayer bill of rights on state ballots last year.

Tulsan Rick Carpenter, president of Oklahomans in Action, faces one count of conspiracy to defraud the state and one count of filing a false, fraudulent, felonious and fictitious initiative petition.

Oklahomans in Action circulated the initiative petition.

Susan Johnson of Michigan, president of National Voter Outreach, and Paul Jacob of Virginia, of Citizens in Charge, were charged with conspiracy to defraud the state.

Jacob is a leader of the term-limits movement.

National Voter Outreach, a Nevada corporation, was responsible for the circulation and signature collection process, according to the indictment. The group was paid by Carpenter and Jacob for signatures gathered in support of the TABOR petition, according to the indictment.

Johnson said she is “absolutely innocent.”

“This is ridiculous,” she said.

District Judge Bryan Dixon entered pleas of not guilty for Jacob and Carpenter.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court tossed out the petition last year, saying it had too few legal signatures and that “the evidence supports substantial illegal participation of out-of-state circulators.”

Carpenter, Johnson and Jacob were handcuffed together and taken out of the courtroom Tuesday.

They are accused of knowingly and illegally hiring and using out-of-state residents to gather signatures in support of a constitutional amendment that would have set limits on the growth of state spending and required any surplus funds to be placed in a constitutional emergency fund.

It’s hard not to suspect that the case is more about the substance of the initiative than anything else. After all, Paul Jacob made his name as one of the leaders of the term limits movement, earning the enmity of incumbent politicians everywhere. If anything, the same politicians hate TABOR even more, since it limits their ability to empty taxpayer pockets and spread cash around to their favorite interest groups.

Still, the most important issue in this case is not tax limits, but the right to petition government. There are few more fundamental constitutional rights. If government officials are able to criminalize citizens attempting bring issues to a vote of the people, we will lose one of our most important democratic checks on government.