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Funny Business With Petitions Leads To Serious Charges

OKLAHOMA — It was lies, Notaries and petitions that got officials of three taxpayers’ rights groups in trouble with the state authorities.

The three officials — Rick Carpenter, chairman of Oklahomans in Action; Susan Johnson, president of National Voter Outreach; and Paul Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge — have been accused of illegally using out-of-state circulators in a 2006 petition drive to get a taxpayer bill of rights initiative on the ballot. Among the red flags state investigators cited was that the names of Notaries on the petitions were crossed out and replaced with others.

State officials were first notified of the issue by one of the out-of-state petitioners, Robert Colby of Tennessee. He testified in a preliminary hearing that he regularly lied to protect himself. He admitted that he fraudulently obtained an Oklahoma state ID by lying that he intended to live in the state.

The petition was thrown out by the Oklahoma Supreme Court primarily because of the use of out-of-state circulators. The bigger issue, of course, is that the groups sought to circumvent the law and its employees regularly lied to officials and voters signing the petitions. As any Notary knows, personal integrity is imperative in guaranteeing any legal document — including political petitions.

Carpenter, Johnson and Jacob’s attorneys argued that the prohibition about using out-of-state circulators was unconstitutional.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court agreed with the argument, striking down the Oklahoma law, saying that there was no evidence that out-of-state circulators commit more fraud than circulators who are state residents. The court also ruled that the law violated the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

While the law was overturned, the case against Carpenter, Johnson and Jacob is still pending according to prosecutors. Each of the non-profit leaders face one felony count each of conspiracy to defraud the state. If convicted of the conspiracy charge, they could receive a 10-year prison sentence or a $25,000 fine or both. Carpenter faces an additional charge of filing a false petition, which carries a 2-year prison sentence or a $500 fine or both.

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