On Monday, May 12, news Website Honolulu Civil Beat published an article that drew public, county and state scrutiny about SHAKA Movement's efforts to gather signatures for a temporary moratorium on the cultivation of genetically engineered organisms in Maui County in advance of this week's deadline. (See "Maui Anti-GMO Group Is Paying Petition Signature Gatherers $5 Per Name" at civilbeat.com.)
The issues described in the Civil Beat article were SHAKA's (Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the 'Aina) posting of voter rolls on its Website and its payment of $5 for each signature collected in support of a citizens' initiative during the last 10 days of its signature-gathering campaign.
"This type of characterization and reporting is to be expected in such matters and has not been unanticipated by the over 14,000 Maui County citizens who are already participating in this process," said SHAKA Movement spokesperson Bruce Douglas.
"The current media characterizations of SHAKA Movement, suggesting wrongdoing of any sort, or off-island interests trying to influence what is happening in Maui County, is wholly unjustified and untrue," said Douglas.
"Those who would wish for the citizens not to succeed in a moratorium such as ours, typically want the public to focus on these unsubstantiated and sensational claims so as to avoid and divert the public's attention, conversation and contemplation on the real issues," said Doug-las.
The real issues, he said, are "the multitudes of chemicals and chemical combination cocktails being sprayed on the land, the sterilization of the soils, the fugitive dust, the rising birth defects and health decline of our citizens. That is why over 14,000 citizens have signed a petition in support of a temporary moratorium to make sure what is happening here is safe."
Valid signatures from 8,500 Maui County voters will put the GMO Crop Moratorium Initiative on the November ballot to give voters the decision-making power to "temporarily suspend genetic engineering operations and practices and their associated pesticide use on Maui, Molokai and Lana'i until an Environmental and Public Health Impact Study can be conducted to insure that such GMO agrochemical practices are safe to the environment, our citizens, and to the 'aina for current and future generations," said Douglas in a Tuesday, May 13, email to the Maui Weekly.
SHAKA Movement submitted 9,600 signatures to the county in early April, exceeding the 8,500-signature minimum. But the group has continued to gather signatures for the second and final turn-in deadline on Friday, May 23, when they will submit additional supplemental signatures in case a significant number of first-round signatures are invalid.
Mark Sheehan, one of the five citizens bringing forth the initiative, said the SHAKA Movement has collected a total of 14,000 signatures so far toward the goal of 16,000--nearly double the amount required.
Civil Beat's article stated "... the organization also posted the names and addresses of Maui County's registered voters online, prompting the state Office of Elections to ask them to remove the information."
Douglas said, "Rest assured that voters' personal information was never at any time made available to the public. The ability to verify voters addresses for the purpose of assisting voters to sign the petition with their correct registered address was made available only to our registered petitioners through a private, non-public URL in the backdoor of our Website."
This "legal use of the voters' data" was purchased for $50 from the Maui County Clerk in February, said Douglas.
"We had informed and verified with the County Clerk this legal use of the data in such a manner when we purchased it," said Douglas.
When SHAKA Movement principles became aware of the possible public exposure of this information when a pro-GMO blog revealed the group's private URL, Douglas said they immediately removed the page and function from SHAKA's Web server on the afternoon of Monday, May 12. It has now been replaced with a call-in hotline for SHAKA's petitioners to help voters verify their correct registered address.
Regarding the $5 per signature offer, Douglas said, "An angel donor, who is a Maui resident, wants to give back to our volunteer petitioners. She has offered to donate to our currently registered petitioners $5 for each valid signature they acquire during the last 10 days of our signature collection campaign. Her intention is to give back to the givers--the volunteer petitioners who have selflessly given of their time and energy."
Maui County attorneys reviewed the practice of paying people to gather signatures, finding that although it is an uncommon practice in Hawai'i compared to other states, it is legal.
Douglas also said that some petitioners plan to donate the money back to SHAKA to assist with its educational programs, Sustainable Jobs for Former Agrochemical Workers programs, soil remediation programs and community organic gardens.
Regarding rumors that SHAKA Movement's funding comes from Mainland interests, Douglas said, "The SHAKA Movement would like to unequivocally state that it is a wholly Maui-grown, grassroots organization. We understand that other organizations throughout the state have been associated with off-island funding. Rest assured that the SHAKA Movement has been wholly funded by Maui County residents."
Douglas said the proposed ordinance has been reviewed by lawyers from around the world pro bono, "yet, all moneys donated thus far have come from within our community and we have received no donations from institutions or organizations of any kind. Furthermore, the donations collected to date have been utilized within Maui's economy so as to support Maui businesses and services. We want our efforts to support everyone within our community."