Paul Jacob, Susan Johnson, and Rick Carpenter: Oklahoma’s Political Prisonersby Stephen Littau
Paul Jacob, Susan Johnson, and Rick Carpenter could face up to 10 years in prison and $25,000 in fines for “conspiracy against the state” in the State of Oklahoma. Perhaps the three were conspiring to commit an act of terrorism? Or maybe they conspired to commit welfare fraud? Sold counterfeit tickets to a Sooners game? Nope. The trio now known as “the Oklahoma 3,” their alleged “conspiracy” was circulating petitions to amend the state constitution to include a taxpayer’s bill of rights. It’s illegal in Oklahoma for Jacob and Johnson to circulate petitions since they are not Oklahoma residents (a claim they both dispute).
OKLAHOMA CITY – A multicounty grand jury indictment unsealed Tuesday in Oklahoma County District Court names three key figures in the failed effort to put a taxpayer bill of rights on state ballots last year.
Tulsan Rick Carpenter, president of Oklahomans in Action, faces one count of conspiracy to defraud the state and one count of filing a false, fraudulent, felonious and fictitious initiative petition.
Oklahomans in Action circulated the initiative petition.
Susan Johnson of Michigan, president of National Voter Outreach, and Paul Jacob of Virginia, of Citizens in Charge, were charged with conspiracy to defraud the state.
Jacob is a leader of the term-limits movement.
National Voter Outreach, a Nevada corporation, was responsible for the circulation and signature collection process, according to the indictment. The group was paid by Carpenter and Jacob for signatures gathered in support of the TABOR petition, according to the indictment.
On October 7, 2007, Paul Jacob wrote an article at Townhall.com explaining his experience and his side of the story:
I was placed in hand-cuffs and leg-irons before my release on bond, and am threatened with a ten-year prison term for that oh-so-violent crime of helping others petition their government.
I wasn’t alone. I was cuffed to the other two bewildered citizens that make up The Oklahoma Three, my alleged co-conspirators, Susan Johnson and Rick Carpenter.
Susan is a mother and grandmother who lives in Michigan. She’s also the president of a petition management firm called National Voter Outreach. She started on the streets as a petitioner many years ago, learned the business and is now at the top.
Seeing this sweet lady (and I mean “lady”) in leg-irons as we were being processed is something I’ll long remember — whenever I think I’ve had enough, whenever I doubt that my extra effort is needed or wonder if freedom can be guarded without personal sacrifice.
Rick Carpenter of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is the head of Oklahomans in Action. He was the legal proponent of two Oklahoma initiative campaigns launched back in 2005, neither of which amused the political elite. One was designed to end eminent domain and regulatory abuse by governments and the other measure would have capped the rate of government spending growth, allowing greater spending only with voter approval — a measure similar to Colorado’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
Unlike most initiative states, Oklahoma has a residency requirement allowing only Oklahoma residents to circulate a petition. But when the petition company checked with state officials to determine what constituted a resident, those officials said that a person could move to Oklahoma and immediately declare residency — and begin petitioning.
Just to be safe, since sometimes simple law can be made amazingly complicated, I asked for any relevant legal precedent. The ruling in a recent challenge to an Oklahoma petition to ban cock-fighting seemed clear: residency was determined by an individual’s intention to be a resident.
Then, the various forces of big government that had worked so hard to block the vote, joined by a who’s who of corporate CEOs and the heads of energy companies and banks (can you say “daddy welfare”?), challenged the petition. And the Oklahoma Supreme Court came to their aid, providing a much different standard for residency than in the past. The judges now equated residency with a “permanent home.”
How permanent was “permanent”? One petition circulator, who moved to Oklahoma in September of 2005 and was still living there in July of the following year, was ruled not to be a resident.
Yes, it was a terrible injustice. But it was trumped this past week by further injustice, the indictment charging Susan Johnson, Rick Carpenter and me with conspiracy to defraud the state of Oklahoma for allegedly “willfully” violating the state’s residency statute. For this alleged crime Attorney General Drew Edmondson seeks to imprison us for up to ten years.
Susan says she can’t even remember ever getting a speeding ticket. Rick and I have both admittedly sped before . . . but our occasional automotive misadventures did not quite prepare us for the current prosecution.
If we are to believe Mr. Jacob, it appears that he had done his due diligence to avoid breaking this stupid law. Unfortunately for Jacob and his co-defendants, the opponents of their ballot petition are not shy about using the police power of government against them. As powerful as these political opponents may be, surely the courts would not convict 3 American citizens to a 10 year prison sentence for petitioning a state government with such weak evidence?
Perhaps this isn’t about convicting Jacob, Johnson, and Carpenter. Maybe this has more to do with intimidation? Jacob continues:
The goal is to scare, to intimidate, to silence; it is happening more and more in Oklahoma at the hands of Attorney General Edmondson — and throughout the country as our politics becomes increasingly regulated, controlled, and criminalized. Politics has lurched off the highway of democracy, off the curb and back into the old insider system, the gutter method of accumulated power.
Once upon a time you could participate in politics without a battery of attorneys. Once upon a time you could lose an election without fear that one’s opponents would use the power of their office to imprison you. No more.
Well, it is definitely scary. Personally, it’s not fun to think of what impact this legal truncheon to the head could have on my wife, kids, grandchild. But we’ll not allow our rights to be bullied away. Nor will we stand idly by while the one process capable of reining in corrupt politics — citizen initiative and referendum — is threatened into non-existence.
We, the Oklahoma 3, didn’t conspire to break the law. Instead, we sought to understand it and abide by it, even as we sought to change other laws. We now face the full onslaught of the state of Oklahoma. It is apparent that this retaliation is not for any crime, but for our political beliefs and our audacity to put them into action.
Maybe it’s time for all Americans — conservative, liberal, populist, libertarian — to “conspire” together to take back our political system from the gutter.
Before it’s too late.
However one thinks about the Oklahoma 3’s political goals, we should all agree that this injustice cannot stand.