Governor Vetoes Bill Inhibiting Direct Democracy

Governor Gavin Newsom this week vetoed a California Chamber of Commerce-opposed bill that would have hindered Californians’ ability to use the direct democracy tools of initiatives, referendums and recalls.

The bill, AB 1451 (Low; D-Campbell), would have made paying petition gatherers based on the number of signatures they collected for statewide initiatives a crime. Instead, the bill would have allowed compensation based on an hourly rate only. It also would have mandated that at least 10% of the signatures come from unpaid sources.

Although supporters of AB 1451 intended to decrease money in politics and to incentivize grassroots efforts, CalChamber believes the bill would have achieved the opposite. Petition gatherers who are paid by the hour would be less motivated to reach out to highly trafficked areas, decreasing the number of voters who receive election materials.

“By removing the financial incentive to collect signatures in the most efficient manner possible, the initiative process will further be skewed to special interests,” Martin Wilson, CalChamber executive vice president of public affairs, wrote as coauthor of a newspaper opinion piece.

The bill also threatened direct democracy, making it more difficult to qualify the ballot measures that Californians use to express grievances with government officials. Moreover, signature gatherers would no longer have been fairly compensated for their civic service and work in promoting participation in the state’s democratic system.

In his veto message, Newson also voiced concerns over impeding initiative qualification and inhibiting direct democracy.

“While I appreciate the intent of this legislation to incentivize grassroots support for the initiative process, I believe this measure could make the qualification of many initiatives cost-prohibitive,” Newsom stated. “I am a strong supporter of California’s system of direct democracy and am reluctant to sign any bill that erects barriers to citizen participation in the electoral process.”

Staff Contact: Leah Silverthorn


Leah Silverthorn
Leah B. Silverthorn joined the CalChamber policy team in May 2018 as a policy advocate. She specializes in climate change, air quality, energy, environmental justice, marijuana/cannabis, and transportation and infrastructure issues. In April 2021, she was named a senior policy advocate in recognition of her efforts on behalf of members. She brought to the CalChamber more than decade of legal experience in environmental, energy, and land use matters. Immediately before coming to the CalChamber, she was the principal owner of Silverthorn Legal, based in Seattle, Washington. She focused on environmental litigation, contaminated property redevelopment, and environmental cost recovery and defense. She is an honors graduate of Indiana University-Bloomington, with a B.S. in public affairs and environmental management. She earned her J.D., with honors, at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law, where she was articles editor for the Indiana International and Comparative Law Review and a member of the Moot Court Board. See full bio.