Raise the Roof and Put an End to Unethical Petition Drives

Article excerpt

Byline: Adrienne T. Washington, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Don't know what the D.C. slots supporters were serving up under the Red Roof Inn, but it seems mighty unsavory.

Is anyone really surprised that the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics threw out most of the slots petition signatures gathered by the Florida-based signature-gathering firm Stars and Stripes, who, according to testimony, hosted "signing parties" at the Red Roof Inn?

With only 14,587 valid signatures out of 56,044 collected by slots supporters, something is surely amiss. "Fatally flawed," as D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Chairman Wilma A. Lewis characterized this fiasco, won't even buy you a legitimate D.C. lottery ticket.

To begin with, the "Citizens Committee for the Video Lottery Terminal," the front for the out-of-town investors who wanted to establish a $500 million gambling hall in Northeast, is a misnomer if you've ever heard one.

What citizens? The seedy offshore initiators who have been turned down in a handful of other vulnerable venues? The petition "circulators" brought in from California to "assist" D.C. residents in collecting D.C. signatures? Or the petitioners with unknown or unverifiable addresses who reportedly copied names from the D.C. phone directory?

Either way, only D.C. residents come up as big losers in this shaky slots scam as the out-of-towners slink away. Only the local yokels, like businessman Pedro Alfonso (who I'm told was the last person who agreed to lend his name to the dastardly deal), will feel the penalty pinch.

Slippery offshore investors Shawn Scott, Robert L. Newell and John K. Baldwin - all affiliated with Bridge Capital LLC of St. Croix - are free to foist their video terminal schemes on some other unsuspecting community, even after five failed gambling-related foibles.

The elections board had every right and responsibility to discount the ill-gained signatures, but it also has the duty to levy hefty fines and high penalties for those who circumvented the city's franchise laws.

Little difference exists between the illegality of this troublesome initiative and the summer 2002 petition fiasco involving Mayor Anthony A. Williams' bid for re-election.

As I suggested then, I'll suggest again: This case should be investigated thoroughly by law enforcement authorities and any violators should be prosecuted to the highest letter of the law. Impose jail time to the adjudicated offenders.

The elections board must make a harsh example of this latest ballot signature case for all future elections. After watching people try to circumvent the election laws for their own personal gains twice, it's apparent that stronger sanctions must be imposed to set an unmistakably higher standard.

The board must send a clear signal that fooling with petition signatures will not be tolerated in the nation's capital. Set the bar so high that we dare the scoundrels to even try it.

It is not enough for Ms. Lewis to suggest that the overwhelming number of bad signatures was because of poor training and hasty collection. …