City Law Why petitioners visiting Athens ask students to support state bailout of nuclear plants By Nolan Cramer Posted on October 17, 2019 8 min read 0 0 162 Photo courtesy of FirstEnergy Corp. Athenians in recent weeks may have seen petitioners around campus or Uptown with signs that read, “Save Ohio energy jobs.” Or, people may have seen them flagging passersby to ask for, “a quick autograph” or encouraging people to “sign to save Ohio union member jobs.” They are hired petition circulators gathering signatures on behalf of Ohioans for Energy Security, an organization that supports the state bailout of two Ohio nuclear power plants, and some are “paid petition circulators.” This is a sometimes-controversial practice involving individuals who are paid by the supporters of a campaign, candidate or advocacy group to gather signatures for a particular cause. The president of Ohioans for Energy Security, Carlo LoParo, is also the president of the Columbus based firm, LoParo Public Relations — a public affairs and government relations group, according to TIME. Ohioans for Energy Security’s website does not list clear contact information, and LoParo did not respond to The New Political’s requests for comment at the time of publishing. It’s often not clear who is paying petitioners or how much they get paid. In 2008, A United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit case, Citizens for Tax Reform v. Deters, however, allowed petition circulators to get paid based on the number of signatures they collect. Paid petition circulators are employed in several different ways. A popular hiring method organizations use is a website where organizers post requests for circulators and their contact information. Social media is also a popular platform organizations use to hire circulators. A circulator collecting signatures outside of Shively Hall said: “I found this job via a listing on Craigslist, some of us also find them on Facebook.” Another circulator on Morton Hill said: “I have been doing this since 2006, and I have a guy in Los Angeles who hooks me up with these jobs. … I travel state-to-state and campaign-to-campaign collecting signatures.” Many petitioners declined to disclose their name. Petitioners who operate in Ohio are required by law to be residents of the state, according to the Ohio Revised Code. One circulator claimed many recent petitioners in Athens were not Ohio residents. When asked about the Ohio Revised Code he responded, “we signed a declaration saying we can be here.” When prompted to show a copy of the declaration, he refused and had no further comment. Out of four petition circulators TNP talked to, two of them said that they travel to different states to collect signatures for various groups. A petition circulator, who identified himself as Matt, said: “I will petition anything as long as it puts it (the issue) into a place where people have the right to vote on it.” Students on campus aren’t happy with the way petitioners have treated them. Freshman Kate Mauer, for example, said she felt harassed by the petitioners. “They would yell at me whenever I told them I didn’t want to sign. Sometimes they would kind of start to follow me when I was walking to class,” she said. “It made me feel somewhat afraid.” Matt tries to remain respectful when gathering signatures, he said. “I am pretty good at being respectful. I know a lot of these other guys (petition circulators) are really horrible at it,” he said. When describing how he collects signatures, he said he tries to make direct eye contact and read the body language of passersby. “If they say they’ve already signed or they don’t look like they want to say, ‘sounds good’ and move on. There’s many more people and I keep going,” Matt said. Some Ohio U students who voluntarily filled out a petition are confused about what they signed for. Students also expressed concern about what may be done with the personal information they shared on the form. “Like I don’t know what I’m signing for, so I don’t know where my information is going,” said freshman Mia Jevak after she elected to sign a petition. “There’s one person here asking you to sign a petition about something related to China, another one saying something about voting in Ohio. And there is one talking about union jobs,” she said. “It is like they don’t know what they’re collecting signatures for.” Another student, Jesse Sarrold, said, “usually with petitions they ask you like, ‘Here read this. See what you are signing.’ But with these petitioners they’re like sign it quickly and move on.” Since Ohio U is a public campus, petition circulators are permitted to gather signatures, according to university policy.