Repair California, the group formed with the goal of convening a state constitutional convention, Wednesday accused signature-gathering firms of engaging in dirty tricks and intimidation against the group’s campaign to collect petition signatures for the ballot measures it needs to convene its proposed convention.

The group’s attorneys say established signature gathering firms have “blacklisted” Repair California, presumably because they fear that a constitutional convention could impose limits on the state’s referendum process.

“Here lies the dark underbelly of California’s political control,” Repair California campaign director John Grubb said in a news release. “It’s a very bad sign for our democracy that reminds one more of 'Caligula’ than 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.’ ”

Repair California’s is trying to place a pair of measures on the ballot to convene the state’s first constitutional convention since the 1800s, saying the convention is needed to reform a broken system of governance.

If they succeed in getting the measures on the November ballot, voters will be asked to convene a convention during 2011 that would propose reforms to be put before voters in 2012.

According to recent campaign finance filings with the secretary of state, Repair California raised a little more than $350,000 during 2009; that’s nowhere near enough for a paid signature gathering campaign, even at normal rates.

Repair California needs to gather signatures from 694,354 registered voters for one of its measures, a constitutional amendment that would allow a convention to be called through a ballot measure, and 433,971 signatures for its companion measure, which would actually call the convention.

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