Petition gathering group accused of paying employees per petition

A gavel in a courtroom. (Pexels)

TALLAHASSEE – A legal battle between backers of a citizen initiative to expand casino gaming and groups with ties to the Seminole Tribe is heating up.

In a recent court filing, the defendants accused Grassfire LLC, a plaintiff in the case, of paying its employees based on the number of petitions they collect.

It was two years ago that state lawmakers outlawed the practice.

Under the 2019 law, paying petition circulators based on the number of signatures they collect is first degree misdemeanor.

Rep. Mike Beltran was a co-sponsor of the bill.

“We don’t allow people to do that because it corrupts the process. Then people have an incentive to fabricate or doctor additional signatures in order to make additional money,” said Beltran.

The new court filings the legal battle between supporters and opponents of a casino gaming citizen initiative suggest the practice hasn’t stopped.

A sample employee contract found on Grassfire LLC’s website offers bonuses for employees as they reach petition benchmarks.

“They say they want core values and the courage to do the right thing, and on the face of the document, they’re violating the law,” said Beltran.

Beltran argued that the intent of the law is clear.

“It doesn’t say if you pay them an hourly wage you can give them a bonus. It doesn’t say that you have to pay them a base hourly wage. It doesn’t say anything. It says you may not compensate them based upon the number of petition forms gathered,” said Beltran.

In the court filing, it’s claimed whistleblowers have reported Grassfire LLC to authorities.

Capitol News Service has reached out to the secretary of state, attorney general and Florida Elections Commission regarding the accusations, but our inquiries have gone unanswered.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ declined to weigh in on the specific allegations, but highlighted the governor’s push for lawmakers to create an election integrity unit in the upcoming legislative session.

“The governor is absolutely committed to legislation that would empower the Department of State with the resources and personnel to aggressively investigate election-related crimes,” said Christina Pushaw, the governor’s press secretary.

A statement from Florida Voters in Charge, the group sponsoring the citizen initiative that Grassfire was collecting signatures for, and received an emailed statement from an attorney who represents the group that reads:

The casino gaming initiative has collected just over 300,000 valid signatures, well below the 891,589 signatures needed by Feb. 1 to make the ballot.