A few weeks ago I was offered a job that I would have been a fool to refuse. It seemed almost too good to be true, but the person I was dealing with was one I deeply respected and trusted beyond question. Sadly, I’ve learned that no one is what they seem and once again I misplaced my trust, allowing myself to get royally screwed over.
I cannot stress the importance of having solid written contracts – even if it is between friends. If nothing else, not just to build trust and assure that the other party will follow through on their commitments, but to make sure all parties are communicating clearly and on the same page moving forward. In the case of my business dealings with Christina Tobin and Free & Equal Inc. I ignored this essential business lesson, and am paying a hefty price for it.
If you would like a greatly abridged version of this, click this link to skip to the end of the post.
It was Friday, May 20, 2016 and I was looking for summer work now that the school year had wound down. I texted some friends and one of the people I texted, Christina Tobin, got back to me rather quickly with an interesting proposal: She was offered a contract by the Libertarian Party of Illinois (LPIL) to collect 12,500 signatures to get Gary Johnson and the rest of the Libertarian Party’s statewide candidates on the ballot in Illinois.
I was perfectly upfront with Christina about my experience in this field: I had never coordinated a petition drive, but I did have skills organizing and managing people, complex operations, and planning logistics, so if that was what she needed I would be able to do the job. This is evidenced in our very first text message exchange.
We discussed the details of the job requirements. Christina Tobin told me that she wanted to accept this 12,500 signature contract with the LPIL, but she was so busy running her non-profit, the Free & Equal Elections Foundation, that she would not be able to manage the drive herself. She told me she had several petition circulators on the ground in Illinois already and a network of 25-50 circulators in Illinois who could be “activated” as necessary and that we really only needed 4-5 solid people producing 100 signatures per day to get the job done.
There was also the promise of moving into other states to manage petition drives for both the Libertarian and Green parties as she set up additional contracts (she mentioned PA, CT, and AL among others). And to be clear, it was never discussed that my job was going to be to recruit petition circulators. Christina told me that because of her long history in the industry, she had all the contacts to get circulators moving – my job was going to be to manage the people she already had recruited.
What we were discussing was something like a partnership. It was even framed like this: Christina brings to the table a solid reputation earned through her work with the Free & Equal Elections Foundation which she would leverage to get contacts with the third parties, and contacts in the petition circulating world which she would leverage for recruitment. I brought to the table the ability to organize all the logistics on the ground, keep perfect records of our progress, and meticulously inspect petition forms for fraud and errors. Christina told me that when she used to circulate petitions in Illinois she would get 150 signatures per day easily, and on her best days up to 300 signatures in one day. So, it didn’t sound like it would be much trouble getting 450 signatures per day with the people she already had in place ready to go.
As for compensation for doing my job, Christina offered me the following: We would hire petition circulators at a rate of $1.50/signature and I would receive $0.50/signature on top of that. If I had time, I could also go out and gather signatures and be paid at a full $2.00/signature. So, when I did the math I figured that 12,500 signatures at $0.50/signature would be worth $6,250. Add to that any signatures I gather (maybe a couple hundred per week) and we’re talking about a nice tidy sum for four weeks of intense work.
So, I found a dog sitter for my dog at a rate of $150/week, I packed up a couple suitcases, and I boarded a $63 flight to Chicago from Dallas. I was to begin immediately on Monday.
Week 1 – Disaster
One thing I did discuss with Christina was if it was okay for me to hire some of my friends to circulate at $1.50/signature. I knew some people who were primarily working in the gig economy and might be able to use the extra cash. Christina told me that the more people we hired the better because that would just mean we could wrap up this petition drive in Illinois early and either have our contract extended past 12,500 signatures or quickly move on to another state.
So, I contacted a few friends and had four people let me know they were interested. However, when I arrived in Chicago that Sunday night, Christina had me meet with a petition circulator on the ground Marty to fill me in on the details of where to send circulators. The key things I learned from that meeting were:
- Marty was not actually going to circulate petitions himself despite Christina thinking he would. He was happy to pass on advice, however.
- Stay out of the city of Chicago because the “validity rate” was 40% or less, meaning that only 40% of the people who signed petition forms came back with an address that matched a registered voter.
- Circulate petitions in front of government buildings such as DMV’s, post offices, and libraries. Public transportation hubs were good as well as grocery stores (unless you were asked to leave).
So, while Marty’s information was helpful, the fact that he was not actually going to circulate was the first of many blows to Christina’s recruitment efforts. Furthermore, Christina had not informed me until after I arrived in Chicago that we were not going to be circulating petitions within the city limits of Chicago – which made it almost impossible for any of the friends in Chicago I had recruited to do the work as they either did not own cars, or were not motivated to commute out to far flung suburbs every day.
Over the following days, one by one, Christina’s “circulators on the ground” started to flake off. I actually met with several of these individuals and provided them with clipboards, pens, and stacks of petition forms. But they all just seemed to disappear, some completely to the point of not even returning phone calls or messages anymore. By the end of the first week, our circulation team consisted of myself and a couple of friends who didn’t own cars and whom I was providing transportation for.
During this time, I was paying for all of these expenses out of pocket. In total, I spent $49.40 on clipboards, pens, and rubber bands and $153.42 on printing and running off copies of petition forms. Most of those supplies and forms disappeared down the black hole of circulators whom Christina put me in touch with that eventually disappeared. I would eventually go on to rack up a total of $306.21 in fuel expenses by June 11.
In that first week, Christina started to show hints of doubting her ability to bring in circulators and started relying on me more heavily to get my friends out working ASAP. However, she still framed this as simply a delay and getting my friends started quickly was merely to produce good numbers to show the Libertarian Party – once she got her contacts up and running we would be churning out well over the amount of signatures per day than we needed and move on to another state quickly. By May 26, she started to entertain the idea of posting ads to Craigslist and hiring complete strangers – something she was reluctant to do considering because she preferred to recruit within her networks.
As the days passed and more and more of Christina’s contacts started to flake off she started to get into a panic. She mentioned increasing the pay from $1.50 to $1.75 and then eventually $2.00. During this time, she confirmed my $0.50/signature “override” repeatedly telling me my pay would also go up per signature to match the increase in pay per circulator. At one point, she mentioned only increasing my pay by $0.10/signature to match a $0.25/signature pay increase to circulators which, at the time I missed. However, as we discussed my role being almost entirely management and the fact that this would prevent me from gathering signatures myself, she confirmed that she would pay me up to $2.50/signature, a $0.50/signature override on circulators working at $2.00/signature.
Christina kept calling me when I was trying to go out circulating and telling me to stop circulating petitions and work on other management functions for her. We went back and forth for several hours about the copy of Craigslist ads, I started to juggle phone calls and emails responding to said ads, and eventually, upon her request, I started to build out these massively sophisticated spreadsheets that kept track of how many signatures each team member was getting per day, where they were getting them, how efficiently people were producing, how much each individual’s payout would be, how to reconcile that those daily counts with actual turn-in counts as well as the final count reported back to us from the party, including tracking validity, and additional statistics necessary for internal decision making and sharing with the party.
I developed a system of digitizing all our petition forms and sharing them with the party so that they could validate faster and so that we could have permanent records in case of a discrepancy. I was driving around collecting petition forms and physically delivering them to the party members myself. All of this was eating into my ability to personally go out and circulate, but this didn’t worry me because I kept telling myself: “I’m earning $0.50 for 12,500 signatures. $6,250 makes all this work worth it.”
Also during this time, Christina decided she would fly into Chicago herself to start circulating and help me manage things. I was barely getting any sleep at this point I was doing so much. However, again, on May 31, Christina confirmed for me that the override was still going to be $0.50/signature so I wasn’t too awfully worried about all the work I was doing for the business.
Week 2 – Cast Aside
By the time Christina arrived in Chicago, she had made a very important deal that would eventually be my undoing. Christina formed an alliance with another gentleman who is in the business of getting petition circulation contracts and hiring circulators.
This was brought to my attention by her mentioning that she was bringing in “the pros” to help us out and this guy named Trenton, who was a professional circulator, was going to fly into Chicago and help us knock out this contract as well as teach me some tips and tricks for how to recruit people online since Craigslist wasn’t quite working out for us at this point. There was no mention of me losing my $0.50/override and I assumed that this was still someone who was being brought in at our now $2.00/signature rate.
Christina also told me that I would need to pull my support for and fire the friends I had recruited who weren’t turning out big numbers every day because she only wanted people on the team who were producing an average of 100/signatures per day. Finally, she mentioned that she wanted me to meet with and sign a contract with a gentleman named Will Crosby who had a network of 15-20 professional circulators in Chicago.
Meanwhile, Christina arrived in Chicago and she and I met at a Panera Bread to discuss how things were going. It was at this time that Christina revealed to me that she had offered Trenton $2.50/signature. It occurred to me right then and there that she was basically subcontracting this entire contract out to other people and cutting me out altogether. I told her I wouldn’t be able to make enough money for it to be worth it for me to have come all the way up here.
Christina told me to focus on the long-term picture and all the money I would make in future states. Then, she told me that she still expected to have some of her circulator contacts work out and that the bulk of the contract would be fulfilled by our people with my $0.50/signature override. I told Christina that I wanted at least $0.25/signature override on Trenton’s signatures since I was still going to be managing turn-ins, inspecting forms, and digitizing everything for our records and a speedy validation process. Christina told me she could do $0.10/signature and assured me that this was only a small part of the total number of signatures we would be producing. With that in mind, I accepted those terms. It wasn’t until later I would find out that this was a complete lie and Christina had signed a contract with Trenton for him to produce up to 10,000 of the 12,500 signatures we were contracted for.
All this while, I am still essentially running the internal operation of this venture. Christina has no idea how many signatures we are producing, what we need to fulfill the contract, how much money we are supposed to get paid, and how much money we are obligated to pay out. Instead of going out and circulating or taking any of the management burden off of my shoulders – which is why she said she was coming to Chicago in the first place, Christina is spending her days at home running her non-profit foundation still, putting out press releases, and taking care of that business. At one point, she had me sit in on a conference call with the national party so that I could feed her information to tell the party – she really had no idea what was happening with this contract and relied on me 100% to execute it. She is so busy even, that she taps me to try and find her a rental car – I am basically her COO and executive assistant at this point. But, I keep telling myself this is fine. I’m going to make a $0.50/signature override on all the signatures we collect… except for a few that Trenton and his people collect. It is still worth it to be doing all this work.
Later, Christina would reveal to me the Will Crosby deal which she wanted me to set up. Because he was bringing in his own network and managing his own team, Christina asked me to give up half of my override – $0.25/signature – to him. At this point I didn’t feel like I had a choice, and at least it I would still be making $0.25/signature on top of his work. I met with Will Crosby to make the deal. I handed him a giant stack of petition forms and copies of our W-9 and circulator agreement (which I had created on my own time based on a basic skeleton Christina had provided me with) for each of his team members to sign. Then, like so many others, Will Crosby was never heard from again.
Week 3 – House of Cards
At this point, I am starting to feel quite cheated. I’ve already been working 80+ hours per week managing this entire operation for Christina. I’ve delivered just over 2500 signatures through my own personal efforts and the people I have been able to recruit. Christina, on the other hand, has not delivered a single petition circulator – an essential promise she made to me which convinced me to take this job in the first place – and is instead now bringing in “professionals” at such a high pay rate that I’m getting cut out entirely.
At this point, it is starting to feel like all the extra work I have been doing running Christina’s entire operation is going to essentially be for free. The best way for me to even make money at this point is to go out and circulate myself – a task I had been largely prevented from doing up to this point because Christina kept calling me while I was out and demanding I put up more Craigslist ads, or calling me at 11 o’clock at night to go over setting up a spreadsheet to show the Libertarian party, causing me to be incapable of getting up at 3:30am to circulate at a Metra station the next morning.
Then, I start to find out some very disturbing details about the entire operation. First, I find out that the company I have been representing, Free & Equal Inc., did not even exist when I first agreed to fly out to Chicago and work for it. Christina had filed the articles of incorporation after she hired me to be her coordinator and after she made a contract with the Libertarian Party. In fact, it did not even have a bank account and there was no cash on hand. This means that I didn’t end up even getting my first paycheck until the second week of June – causing me to incur $150 in late fees on my rent.
Second, I started to notice that Christina uses the money belonging to her non-profit, Free & Equal Elections Foundation, as a personal piggy bank, using it to pay for her personal expenses as well as the for-profit, Free & Equal Inc., expenses.
I am starting to get the feeling that all the trust and faith I had in Christina Tobin to know what she was doing and know what she was getting me into was severely misplaced. And she even confirms this in our correspondence – that she is shocked at how difficult it is for us to get the number of circulators and signatures we need despite how easy it was when she managed Ralph Nader’s ballot access petitions in 2008 and that she was surprised by the unexpected challenges of getting this job done.
The real kicker finally came on June 11 when Christina told me she was flying in a friend named Nico to come and circulate for us. Nico is an experienced and professional circulator and in my correspondence with him, he told me that he really didn’t want to come out to Illinois to do this job but Christina had “begged” him and tried to guilt trip him saying how he owed her a favor. He said he expected to get about 500-600 signatures in his week here and hopefully that would help.
Christina then told me that she was paying Nico $2.50/signature and I would not receive any override on what he produced. I couldn’t understand why he was going to get paid the exact same as me – despite the fact that I was running her entire business operation for her and he was just going to be circulating. What is more, Christina was paying $350 for his round trip flight, putting him up in a hotel for the week, and paying for a rental car for him. I did some quick calculations and found out that if Nico delivered on the 500 signatures he expected to get in one week, Christina would essentially be paying $4.50/signature. Since the Libertarian Party was only paying her $3.00/signature she was losing $1.50/signature just to bring him in.
On top of that, Christina had insisted in flying Trenton, who had since moved on to manage his own contract in Ohio, back to Chicago to run the turn-in from his people at a cost to the company of over $1000. I got Trenton and Christina on a three-way call and managed to negotiate an arrangement where I would handle the turn-in from Trenton’s people and he wouldn’t have to waste a day flying in and out of Chicago and Free & Equal Inc. wouldn’t have to spend an extra $1000 for no reason.
I was starting to realize that Christina hadn’t done the math, her company wasn’t solvent, and there wasn’t going to be enough money in the bank to pay everybody. As I mentioned, up to this point I had already incurred $49.40 in supplies expenses, $153.42 in printing expenses, $306.21 in gas expenses, and my flights to and from Dallas totaled $236.97. Furthermore, I had spent two days setting up a website for Free & Equal Inc. which I hadn’t been paid for (I kept thinking that the $0.50/signature override I was getting would make my time investment worth it) and spent $61.26 in web hosting and advertising costs for Free & Equal Inc. This brought my total personal expenses for the company up to $807.26 + 2 full days of work on a website.
Up to this point, Christina had yet to reimburse me for most of the expenses I incurred (she had fronted me $200 when I first arrived in Chicago), and now she was recruiting circulators at a greater cost to her than she would earn from them and cutting me out entirely of the $0.50/signature override she promised. It was beginning to look more and more like I was working for free and was never going to get paid for all the work I had done.
The final straw came when I found out from Trenton that Christina had contracted him to collect 10,000 of our signatures – and not the paltry amount Christina had told me when she got me to agree to give up $0.40 of my override and only take $0.10/signature on what he produced.
I spoke with Christina on the phone about this and that is when she started to backpedal and redefine the terms of our original agreement. Christina told me she had hired me to be her coordinator because I had told her I had lots of connections in Illinois and she relied on me entirely to build the circulator team. Of course, this is completely ludicrous – as I provided evidence of from our text messages above, I never told Christina I had experience recruiting or contacts with professional circulators and I was relying on her to provide me with circulators to manage – something she had mistakenly thought she could do and was unprepared to deal with when it didn’t work out.
Furthermore, Christina went on to tell me that she had only agreed to pay me for the signatures I collected and to pay an override on the people I recruited. If that had been the case, I would have never had this figure of $6250 in my head or at least I would have understood coming into things that I needed to have a solid recruitment strategy in place before I even left Dallas and I would not have waited a week to receive Christina’s reluctant blessing to post Craigslist ads to recruit people. Furthermore, if I was only going to earn money for my own signatures and the people I personally recruited, I would have never spent countless hours of my time – time I could have been out circulating – building out all her spreadsheets, organizing her entire operation, and building her company’s website.
I finally realized that Christina was in way over her head, she had made promises to myself and the Libertarian Party she had no idea how to fulfill, and she was losing more and more money the deeper in she went and basically cutting me out of everything I was promised in order to cut her own personal losses while blaming me for her own failures.
With Christina constantly changing the terms of our agreement, I decided enough was enough and told her I needed to have a contract in writing if we would continue to work together. I offered her the following terms, which were clearly a departure from what I thought our original deal was, but something I believed to be fair for all the work I was doing:
Tomorrow we are going to sign a contract. These are the terms I am asking for:Regarding my expenses…
- All of my gas expenses will be reimbursed by Free & Equal Inc.
- All of my toll expenses will be reimbursed by Free & Equal Inc.
- My flight from Dallas will be reimbursed by Free & Equal Inc.
- My flight back to Dallas will be reimbursed by Free & Equal Inc. whether it is at the end of this contract in Illinois or any follow-on contract after Illinois.
- All of my purchases of printing and supplies purchases will be reimbursed by Free & Equal Inc.
- All of the money I spend on advertising on Facebook and putting up the website will be reimbursed by Free & Equal Inc.Regarding this Illinois drive…
- $2.50 per signature I collect.
- $0.50 override on all signatures collected from parties paid at a rate under $2.25.
- $0.20 override on all signatures collected from parties paid at a rate of $2.25 or above.Regarding housing circulators…
- $25/day for any circulator who stays in my parent’s house beginning on June 13, 2016 who is not an immediate family member.
We discussed these terms and Christina rejected them outright. At this point, I told Christina that I could not continue working for her as her “National Petition Coordinator,” and she agreed that was the best way to continue things. In fact, Christina went as far as to offer reimburse all of my expenses and fly me back to Texas right then and there without any obligation to continue working for her as is detailed in our text message exchange:
She also agreed to pay me for
However, this placed me in a real pickle. I was stuck in Chicago, Christina still owed me $607.26 in expenses I had racked up doing my job up to that point (plus what I would eventually bill her for the website I created for her), and the only way I knew to keep making money was to keep gathering signatures on my own. And with Free & Equal Inc. bleeding money, it only made sense that the person who wasn’t going to get paid when the money ran out would be me since Christina now viewed me as a disposable commodity and had no incentive to keep up a working relationship me, unlike people like Trenton and Nico with whom she was planning on working out side-deals with for future contract bids in other states.
While I had been recruiting circulators to work for Free & Equal Inc., I had received some very negative feedback from professional petition circulators who refused to work for Christina Tobin because she already had a reputation in the industry for not paying people. I had defended Christina’s reputation vigorously, based on my trust in her, and yet now I was seeing first hand how all of the grumblings from disgruntled former circulators might actually be true. I was the next victim on the chopping block.
Cutting My Losses
Walking away from Free & Equal Inc. left me in a real bind. I still needed to recover the expenses I had incurred and I had no way of making money gathering signatures because Christina and I both knew the Libertarian Party would not “steal” a subcontractor out from under her and hire me directly. So, I kept Christina happy by continuing to do work for her on the company spreadsheets, and update her website which I told her I would be charging my standard rate of $500. She told me she would only pay me $300 for the website and that she felt like that was doing me a favor because she could have easily had a volunteer for her non-profit make the website for her for free (nothing shady about that at all, right?). Also, she offered to pay room & board for Karen if Karen would continue working for her.
Furthermore, Christina insisted on limiting me from even talking to anyone else on the team anymore – specifically saying I could not talk to Trenton or Nico about what was going on. I can only imagine that this was to try and prevent the double-talk she had been engaged in from coming to light as it had already done, souring my working relationship with her.
If you look at the text messages, you will also notice that Christina refers to herself as my boss and therefore thinks she has the right to tell me with whom I can and cannot speak. Of course, this clearly demonstrates that Christina does not understand the meaning of “independent contractor” and these are terms I really have no interest in agreeing to. However, at this point she still owes me hundreds of dollars, so I’ll dodge that request all day long without outright denying it just to keep her happy and get paid.
Again, Christina reassures me that whether I continue to circulate petitions for her or not she will reimburse me for all my expenses up to this point and pay for my flight back to Texas. So, I took this to mean that I am free of any further obligations to her.
I did all that she asked just to keep her happy until she would cut me a check to reimburse me for my expenses and pay me for the website. She eventually gave me a check for $550.29 – because that was all she had left in the Free & Equal Inc. bank account, and told she told me she would pay the rest once she got her next payment from the Libertarian Party. Despite the fact that according to my calculations Christina still owed me $56.97 in expense reimbursements, and $300 for a website that was worth more, I decided to cut my losses and move on.
At this point I could have just gone back to Dallas and started looking for a new job. However, seeing as I was already in Chicago and staying with my parents for free and I had a petition circulator who was contracted with me and loyal to only work for me willing to continue gathering signatures, I decided to make the most of the situation I found myself in. I continued to ask Christina for some kind of written agreement and she continued to put me off, telling me I needed to do additional work for her (work for free, mind you) in order to get see a contract or get reimbursed.
Christina keeps making reference to the basic petitioning agreement she asked me to sign on the first day I agreed to work for her. But this agreement in no way resembles a contract! There is no offer of pay, there is no specification of expectations for unmentioned pay. All it is is a statement from me saying I understand I am not an employee of Free & Equal Inc. (which apparently did not legally exist at the time I signed it) and that I can legally circulate a petition for the Libertarian Party in Illinois. What is more, Christina never even signed it.
Furthermore, Trenton and I had a deal worked out where I would drive all the way out to Rockford and help him with his turn-in and work a location out there for the day, but Christina intervened and nixed that deal, stating I would only communicate with her from now on. Still, Christina promised me that even if I did not continue to work for her she would reimburse me and pay for my flight back to Texas – even saying I could stay another week if I wanted in Chicago. However, if I wanted to continue working for, she continued to restate her gag-order on me speaking with anyone else on the team.
The next morning, instead of paying me like she said she would, Christina continued to hold it over my head that I had to do all this extra work for her (for free) in order to receive the reimbursements she promised. This went back and forth – Christina telling me I wouldn’t get the reimbursement until I fixed the spreadsheets she messed up and sent her copies of all the digital petition forms I had made (for free, it turns out).
There was always something else she wanted me to do. I tried to look into the spreadsheets which she had seriously damaged when she tried to take them off of my Google Drive the night before. Still, Christina wouldn’t give me a check until I promised to “fix” the spreadsheets she had broken.
I made it perfectly clear that I would not gather any more signatures until we had a signed contract in place that both parties agreed to. She continued to promise reimbursing me and flying me back to Texas irrespective of whether or not I continued circulating for her. So, I took her at her word and in good faith went to pick up a check upon her request to meet her at her house expecting a check and a contract offer.
However, when I arrived she did not have a contract for me to look at. She did give me a check partially reimbursing me for my expenses. And she asked me when she could expect me to turn in signatures. I told her that she would get no further work from me unless we agreed upon a contract and she said, “Fair enough,” and I left.
I realized at this point that Christina had paid me all she planned on really paying – she hadn’t even fully reimbursed me for my expenses yet. I did not trust that she would be able to pay me without raiding her non-profit’s funds to cover her losses and that was something that did not sit right with my conscience. Furthermore, I had circulators who refused to continue working for me if I continued to work for Christina. The final kicker was the demands that I not speak to anyone else on the team and her cutting me out of the deal I had set up with Trenton to help him manage his team for the promise of an override coming directly from him. It seemed that Christina really just didn’t want me to prosper – even when it did not come at any additional expense to her – so there was no point in my continuing our relationship further.
I did make good on delivering the website to her, I got all the digital scans delivered to her, and she messaged me to let me know the spreadsheets I had created for her were finally working properly. So I fulfilled my end of the bargain in order to receive reimbursement and a flight back to Texas.
So, after I met with Christina that Monday morning (6/13) and she failed to make me a written offer and failed to pay me in full for my expenses. I considered myself released from any obligations to her and I went and signed a contract with another individual, Don, who already had a contract with the LPIL and was free to hire anyone he wanted. Don agreed to pay me $2.75 per signature because I was continuing to incur ongoing expenses recruiting additional circulators – one whom had been living with my parents for free over the past week and a half (even though Christina had eventually agreed to pay $25/day for her housing and transportation expenses but never actually did).
I was also looking into recruiting additional people downstate and needed a little extra to cover the cost of having them FedEx their notarized petition forms to me overnight, and I was trying to bring in another petition circulator from out of state and wanted to cover their transportation costs. My sister had already rented a car for about $300 and driven from Kansas City to Chicgao to circulate for about a week at $2.00/signature and Christina never offered to cover any of that expense (despite being perfectly happy to pay her friend, Nico, $2.50/signature and pay for his flights, hotel, and a rental car). So, with the extra $0.25/signature I was hoping to at least cover the costs incurred by individuals I had recruited myself to circulate, which is only fair.
Christina did finally get me a contract Tuesday night (6/14), but by then it was already too late. She had plenty of time to come to terms with me and kept holding off on making me a written offer while trying to get more and more work out of me without any guarantee of pay so I had moved on. The contract she sent me, by the way is boilerplate garbage. Such a disappointment. I sent her the following response:
I looked over the contract. I appreciate the offer. Respectfully, I decline. Good luck in all your future endeavors!Respectfully,
No Resolution In Sight
I did one turn in with Don – 200 signatures from me, and 400 signatures from the woman I recruited who is living with my parents. Christina has intervened and told the Libertarian Party that I have an exclusive contract with her and that every signature I collect and every signature collected by anyone I recruit belong to her – despite the fact that she has no contracts in place to confirm this.
Christina is arguing that we had a “verbal contract” – which I am certainly not going to disagree with, but her idea of the terms of that contract are quite different than mine. My understanding was that I was going to be paid $0.50/signature for 12,500 signatures turned into the LPIL. Christina argues that her covering the $236.97 for my flights to and from Chicago – and her reimbursing me for the expenses I incurred in the execution of my duties as National Petition Coordinator for Free & Equal Inc. represent a significant enough investment in me that she “owns” all the signatures I gather in Illinois. My understanding – and all of the text messages back and forth between us illustrate this – was that reimbursing me for expenses I incurred on behalf of the company and paying for my flights was part of the compensation package she offered me to do all the extra non-signature-gathering work I had spent countless hours doing for her over the past three weeks and I was under no obligation to continue working for her.
Christina is now going around contradicting her own written texts to me and claiming that I agreed to continue working for her and that her reimbursing my expenses was consideration for said future work. Of course, all you have to do is read the texts to see this was never the case. At the time, Christina didn’t know I had Don as an option, so I think she just assumed I would either go back to Texas or continue working for her, and when she was surprised that I was able to get a contract with someone else… well, what does it look like to you that she is trying to do? Is this fair business or is this revenge?
Free and Equal Inc. paid for all of Zachariah’s expenses totaling over $550 (of which $300 was a generous offer to purchase website he build which we could get at no cost from someone else) based on his assurance that he would sign a basic contract at $2.50 per sig plus override from one other circulator named Karen which he recruited while working with Free and Equal Inc. and continue circulating for us for remainder of drive. He deposited the $550 check immediately. Shortly thereafter I sent him the contract of which he declined with no reason.
Shortly after depositing the $550+ expense check Zachariah tried turning in petitions to IL Ballot Access Coordinator Krysta Walker. She declined and told him he needed to continue turning into Free and Equal Inc. This was the right thing to do and I’m very appreciative of this.
But, as you can see from the numerous text messages above, Christina agreed to reimburse me for expenses (of which only $236.97 were for flights) out of consideration for the work I had already done with no obligation to me to continue working for her. But this is a complete lie and her own words prove it. As she says in her own words in the texts to me:
Please send me all your reasonable expenses I’ll get that taken care of for you. Sorry it didn’t work out.
Still appreciate everything you did
Those aren’t the words of someone who expects me to continue working for her. She goes on to say:
I’ll also be sure to pay you on override for free and equal team and your sigs collected to date through 6/11.
You’re welcome to keep circulating if you would like if that helps you get on track before heading back to Texas. I will handle all communication with team members from this point forward. I’d also like to give you some sort of compensation for the Free and Equal Inc. website if interested.
Again, Christina is not reimbursing me based on any assurance that I will continue circulating for her. She said I am welcome to if I would like. She just thinks that I don’t have any other options. Furthermore, she offered to compensate me on the website – which makes perfect sense. Why would I spend over 15 hours design a website for her for free? This is only fair, and not a “generous offer” as she tries to make it sound. And to be honest, she underpaid me for my time. She got a deal. In her own words, again:
I’ve been told a square website can be put up for $100 but what you did was extraordinary. How does $300 sounds? Final offer.
I’ll likely build another one in the future but love having this up for the time being. Really appreciate you doing this. I genuinely want to make sure Karen is taken care of.
It shows. Extraordinary website.
So much through and substance very grateful
She sounds pretty happy with the website at that point, doesn’t she? Later that day, in Christina’s own words:
You’re still welcome to collect sigs if you change your mind focus entirely on that turn in to me and make quick cash before I fly you back to TX. All I ask is for you not to communicate which any other members of the team from this point onward. You can also continue to make override on Karen is you wish. What you did to help her was great.
Again, it is clear from Christina’s messages that I am under no obligation to continue circulating for her but she is still going to reimburse me and fly me back to Texas regardless. Furthermore, she told me then that I could continue to collect an override on Karen, but when she finally does send me a contract offer – too late – on Tuesday (6/14) she removes that part of the deal. Further evidence for me that she is duplicitous in her words. Then, Christina states:
I would love for you and Karen to keep circulating can also pay you $25 a day for her if she’s producing
Again, no obligation to work for her and an offer – which was later retracted – to pay me $25/day for her lodging. Again, she reassures me:
I’ve got your plane ticket back. That one is one me.
The only assurance Christina wanted from me was that I would not communicate with the Libertarian Party or Trenton or Nico anymore. And I never even gave her that. As she states in regards to this matter:
If you’re unable to promise to this then we will need to end things I will cover all expenses plus your plane ticket back to TX. I can’t rick having anymore issues here. A petitioning agreement and W9 will suffice at this point.
And yet again, Christina tells me she will reimburse me for my expenses and plane ticket back to Texas even if I do not continue circulating for her.
Shortly after depositing the $550+ expense check Zachariah tried turning in petitions to IL Ballot Access Coordinator Krysta Walker.
Again, this is a complete lie and I have the proof. Christina gave me a check on Monday morning (6/13) at approximately 10:25 am. This is evidenced by the text messages where she tells me to come pick up the check and a recorded audio file I made of our exchange. I communicated with Krysta early Sunday morning (6/12) after Christina and I had our falling out and she had subsequently locked me out of accessing all of our records in Trello. Krysta told me then on the phone that the LPIL was no longer signing any more contracts with circulators.
The only time I spoke to Krysta after that was on the phone on Tuesday, 6/14 to inform her that I would no longer be working for Christina, that I had no intention of turning in directly to the party, but that I had set up a contract with someone else in Illinois to continue petition circulating. And Krysta seemed perfectly fine with that. I also have a record of that phone call:
In reality, what I did do was as soon as Christina partially reimbursed me for my expenses yet failed to give me a solid written offer despite repeated promises to do so, was immediately go to Don and signed a contract with him for roughly the equivalent amount of what I was making under Free & Equal Inc.
Not wanting to be dragged into the middle of this dispute, the LPIL agreed to pay Don $2.50/signature that I turned into him so that he could pay me and I could pay the people working for me and they want Christina and Don to “fight it out” over the remaining $0.50/signature. Don, an innocent bystander in all this, is already losing out a $0.25/signature and Christina is still coming after him for the rest.
Christina has brought in additional “neutral experts” from outside of this deal to offer their opinions and support, ultimately bolstering her position and put pressure on Don and the LPIL to pay her for the work I do. However, up until this point, none of these neutral experts have been privy to my side of the story – to how Christina basically got three weeks worth of COO work out of me for free and still owes me $56.97 for expenses and $300 for a website.
I would invite any third parties who are being roped into this to look at the work I did for Free & Equal Inc., consider the original deal I was offered and how that deal was completely ripped out from under me, and to consider if I have been fairly compensated up to this point and whether or not I am under any obligation to continue working for Free & Equal Inc. or whether Christina Tobin is owed any further compensation from the Libertarian Party for the work I do.
Also, let’s look very closely at Christina’s real motivations here. According to her, this is about punishing me, or as she puts it holding “the circulator completely accountable for his actions.” Again from her (6/18) email:
Mr. Lex Green was kind enough to spend time he doesn’t really have to try and resolve this situation and negotiated with Don to submit the 600 signatures from last turn in to Free and Equal. Inc and giving us the $300 override would suffice. While I appreciate this offer, it doesn’t hold the circulator completely accountable for his actions.
The right thing to do would be for the LP of Illinois to ask Don not to accept these signatures and turn in directly to the LP of Illinois of which the override, validity results and count would then be transferred to Free and Equal Inc. I have a stellar reputation in the petitioning industry and can’t risk being taken advantage of by a dishonest circulator. Word gets around too easily. I appreciate your consideration and hope this can be resolved once and for all.
While coordinating the 2008 Ralph Nader Campaign of over 500,000 signatures throughout the United States I had a similar situation happen and made sure the circulator was held accountable for such actions. This sent a message to all the other circulators in the industry and it never happened again during that campaign.
And that is really what this is about. Christina is trying over and over to reinforce her blameless reputation and emphasize that I have somehow broken a promise to her. But the only promises that were broken were Christina’s promise to pay me $0.50/signature override on all 12,500 signatures for the Illinois contract. When Christina made it clear to me she had no intention of keeping that promise, and when she failed to offer me an acceptable written contract in a timely fashion yet, I walked away. I made no promises to continue circulating for her if she reimbursed me for expenses incurred in the line of my duties for the weeks prior. Any claim she makes otherwise is a lie – evidenced by her very own repeated text messages to me. Who is holding Christina accountable for her fraudulent actions?
Christina can accuse me of being dishonest and fraudulent in my actions all she wants. I can provide proof of her dishonesty and fraud. What can she provide? Nothing. I leave it to the reader to weigh the evidence, not the hearsay, and decide who is the duplicitous one.
First, always always get a written contract when you are going to do a job for someone and make sure all expectations are outlined in detail. I should have known better, but I let myself get blinded by my faith and trust in a charismatic individual.
Petition Circulators – I know I am just one of a chorus of voices now saying this, but do not work for Christina Tobin and Free & Equal Inc. She cannot be trusted. Even if she has the best of intentions starting out, which I sincerely believe she did, she doesn’t know how to manage a proper business on her own and is likely to wind up losing money and will make up any excuse to cut you out of what she promised you in order to protect herself.
Political Parties – There are plenty of other people you can hire to do your petition circulating without having to rely on a startup organization like Free & Equal Inc. I know Christina Tobin has done a marvelous job building up her reputation in the past as someone who cares about the greater cause and breaking down the two party system. I’ve read recommendation letters stating how Christina “isn’t about the money,” but, I must tell you, when Christina was beaming to me about all the money she was going to make through Free & Equal Inc. she kept telling me, “I’m finally going to get what I deserve. I’m finally going to get paid for all the seeds I’ve planted over the years and cash in on the sacrifices I’ve made that I wasn’t getting paid what I deserved,” That is what Free & Equal Inc. and Christina Tobin is about – getting her a big payday for all the work she has invested as an underpaid national ballot access coordinator for the Nader ’08 campaign and the work she has done for her non-profit foundation, Free & Equal Elections Foundation.
Fans of Free & Equal Elections Foundation – While the mission and cause of the foundation is one I wholeheartedly support, I would recommend a cautious look at how the foundation is being managed. For starters, the real name of the organization is Foundation for Free Campaigns And Elections, and I have very good reasons to suspect that Christina Tobin is using the foundation’s money as her own personal piggy bank and to fund her for-profit activities with Free & Equal Inc. I pray that this isn’t true, but from my experience first hand this is the case.
In just one week, Christina billed her flight to Chicago and $300 in rental car expenses to the foundation even though she came here to work on Free & Equal Inc. business, she bough herself dinner at Gladstone for $38.68 with no apparent foundation benefit, and she paid for a lunch meeting with me at Panera Bread for $20.28 – again to work on Free & Equal Inc. matters, not for the foundation. Having personally witnessed her drain the Free & Equal Inc. bank account, and having been told that she did not have enough money in her personal account to pay me the remaining money she owed me unless she transferred funds from another unnamed account I am left to wonder where she is getting the money to pay for Nico’s flights, hotel, and rental car so that he can earn money for Free & Equal Inc. and what this other account is she is transferring funds from if not the account of her non-profit foundation.
It is sad to see someone I nearly idolized be so quickly and swiftly knocked from her pedestal. And it is especially frustrating that I have had to go through this whole ordeal and suffer the crushing disappointment of being ripped off and left flat, and yet still being told I work exclusively for the person who cheated me. But, I hope that my experiences can serve as a warning to others so that no one in the future has to walk blindly into a crooked arrangement with Christina Tobin.
Christina once told me, “The paid petition circulation industry is a dirty and shady industry. We are going to start a revolution and clean up the industry!”
Sadly, I am afraid that it is impossible to clean up an industry with dirty rags. But best of luck to all those honest individuals with their integrity still in tact who are in the industry right now trying to earn an honest living and treat people fairly.
I just spoke with Lex Green, the chair of the Libertarian Party of Illinois. Apparently, Christina is still hounding him and demanding that she be paid for work I and anyone I directly hire does. Reasonably so, Lex Green doesn’t want to have to deal with this – and he shouldn’t. However, Christina insists on dragging him into what is essentially a dispute between her, Don, and myself. On my side I have contracts with Don and Karen and mountains of evidence that Christina has been lying and never expected or required me to be in an exclusive contract with her. On Christina’s side she has a lot unsubstantiated hearsay and connections with other Libertarian party big wigs to pressure Lex Green into making a decision in her favor.
And, in the face of overwhelming evidence to support that Christina lied to me, to the party, and is simply chasing money, Lex Green has decided that the best way to rid himself of her constant nagging is to pay Don $2.50 for every signature Karen and I collect and turn into Don (to then be paid to me), and to also pay Christina $0.50 for every signature that Karen and I collect and turn into Don. Since we already have turned in nearly 600 signatures already, that means Christina has earned herself an extra $300 for doing nothing but complain and beg for money.
This, unfortunately, shorts Don the additional $0.25/signature he promised to pay me, something I am not going to hold him to, of course and leaves him with nothing but a big headache. He is just an innocent bystander and doesn’t deserve to be screwed over on this deal. Instead, because Christina Tobin insists that she owns exclusive rights to all work I and Karen do and therefore is entitled to profit off of our hard work without doing any work herself (on top of all the work I have already done for her which she has not paid me fairly for), I am sending Christina a final bill detailing all expenses incurred by myself and anyone else who circulated for her whom I recruited, including the $25/night lodging that Christina offered to pay to reimburse for housing Karen.
Now that Christina has “won” her completely claim to continue to fraudulently profit off of my work despite my attempts to break free of her as of 6/11/2016, surely she has no reasonable reason to not fulfill her promise to reimburse for expenses and pay for Karen’s lodging. Whether or not she has the integrity to fulfill said promises remains to be seen.
Yes, this is my attempt at making this a short version of the entire sordid affair…
- Christina contacts me and offers me a job of National Petition Coordinator (NPC) for Free & Equal Inc. (5/20)
- She tells me she will set up contracts with political parties and recruit petition circulators and my job is to be her eyes and ears on the ground and manage the execution of the contract.
- Christina agrees to fly me in and out of Chicago and pay for all my expenses in the execution of my duties as NPC along with a $0.50/signature override on 12,500 signatures. My expectation is to earn a minimum of $6,250 managing and executing this contract.
- In the description of my job, Christina never once mentions that I am required to recruit the entire petition circulating team, but instead assures me she has already recruited a team for me to manage.
- During the first week of the petition drive, all of the circulators (approximately 15) Christina thought she had recruited fail to work out. I recruit a couple friends and family members who help pick up the slack from Christina’s failed recruitment efforts. (5/26)
- Christina starts to panic and raises the pay rate to circulators and my $0.50 override along with it, but this still fails to attract enough recruits.
- At my suggestion, Christina allows me to place ads on Craigslist to attempt to recruit more circulators.
- In the second week of the petition drive, Christina makes a secret deal to subcontract out 10,000 of the 12,500 signatures to another contractor and cuts me out of the promised $0.50/signature override promised to me (6/1).
- Not knowing the full details of this secret deal, I continue to work on managing the entire contract for Christina, spending precious hours building sophisticated spreadsheets, digitizing petition forms, and tracking all of the progress, income, and expenses.
- All this work was done in lieu of actually going out and petition circulating myself which at this point could have earned me $2.50/signature. However, I thought it was worth it do this work because I’m still thinking I am going to earn $0.50/signature on the majority of the 12,500 signatures in this contract.
- I recruit Chayil Ping to drive in from Kansas City for a week and circulate. She incurrs $255.20 in rental car expenses over 9 days, not including her total fuel expenses. (6/1)
- In order to obtain the services of who turns out to be our top circulator, Karen Garr, I offer her lodging and pay for all of her transportation costs. (6/3)
- Christina eventually offers to reimburse me for at a rate of $25/day (much cheaper than any hotel in or around Chicago).
- Christina offers to pay a professional circulator’s bus fair to and from Chicago at a rate of approximately $100 each way and with the expectation that I will provide lodging for her as well. (6/9)
- At the last minute, this circulator declines the offer after hearing complaints on pro-petitioner Facebook groups that Christina Tobin does not pay people and cheats them out of their money.
- At Christina’s request, I spend 15 hours designing and building a website for Free & Equal Inc. (6/10)
- With Christina’s approval and the assurance I will be reimbursed for my expenses, I incur $236.97 in flight expenses, and spend $49.40 on petitioning supplies, $153.42 on copies, $306.21 on gas, $37.70 on tolls, $35.26 on Facebook advertising, and $26 on web hosting services.
- In the third week of the petition drive, Christina hires a professional petitioner at a rate of $2.50/signature again cutting me out of my promised override of $0.50/signature. (6/11)
- Christina also pays over $300 for his flights to and from Chicago, his hotel, and a rental car.
- I find out about the side deals Christina has been arranging behind my back as well as the fact this contractor she hired was subcontracted for 10,000 of the signatures.
- I request that Christina give me a written agreement stating that she will pay me $0.50/signature on all circulators paid under $2.25/signature and $0.20/signature on all circulators and subcontractors paid above $2.25/signature (a 60% concession of wages for all the work I have done up to this point).
- Christina refuses to accept my terms and I inform her I can no longer serve as her National Petition Coordinator. Christina reacts by immediately locking me out of all shared documentation and records she can and making copies of as many spreadsheets and files as she can that I have created up to this point (for free, it turns out).
- Christina counter offers to only pay me for my signatures and the $0.50/signature override on individuals I directly recruit, essentially downgrading me to circulator and “recruiter” and makes no attempt to offer to compensate me fairly for all the additional work I have done managing her business for her the past three weeks now that I am cut out of $0.50/signature override she had promised me from the beginning. (6/12)
- Furthermore, Christina makes the stipulation that I agree to not speak with any of the other circulators or contractors she has set up side deals with behind my back.
- Christina repeatedly states that she will reimburse me for all my expenses incurred to date and pay for my flight back to Texas regardless whether or not I accept her offer to continue circulating for Free & Equal Inc.
- Christina fails to fully reimburse me for my expenses, citing lack of funds in the Free & Equal Inc. bank account and she fails to present me with a written contract. (6/13)
- I recognize that Christina is insolvent and spending more money than she is bringing in, and therefore I am unlikely to be fully reimbursed as promised and I am also unlikely to be paid in full for any future services rendered, including simply circulating. So, I terminate my agreement with Free & Equal Inc. and sign a contract with Don Wren to circulate for him.
- I realized that the only way I could get paid in full was if Christina stole money from her non-profit foundation, something I had already witnessed her doing during the course of this contract, and something that I could not in good conscience knowingly be party to.
- Christina thinks that my only option to not circulate for her is to back to Texas – something she was perfectly fine with. However, after I decline her written contract offer and she finds out I have signed a contract with someone else, Christina decides that I am not allowed to work for anyone else but her, so she goes after Don and the Libertarian Party to pay her for my work. (6/15)
- Despite having no evidence to support her claim – no contract and no record of any agreements made between myself and Free & Equal – and the mountains of evidence I have to support that the only deal I had in place with Christina was one she failed to fulfill, Christina convinces the Libertarian Party to pay her $0.50/signature for every signature I and anyone I recruit to circulate produces even after we formally ended our business dealings. (6/19)
And that is how it all went down in a nutshell. If you’re interested in proof and evidence of everything states in this outline, please read the full post. It is extremely detailed.