SALEM - It's a cherished Oregon tradition - citizens banding together to gather signatures to place proposed laws on the ballot. Assisted suicide, vote-by-mail elections and property tax limits are just a few of the laws enacted directly by voters over the years.

The century-old initiative and referendum system has been used more widely in Oregon than most other states, but it will be the target of increased scrutiny and possible new constraints in the coming year.

Legislators and some of the state's top elected officials say the initiative system's reputation has been tainted by well-heeled people using the system to promote their own agendas, and by allegations of abuse and fraud.

Among those leading the charge for tougher oversight are Oregon Secretary of State-elect Kate Brown and Oregon Attorney General-elect John Kroger.

"You've got two new sheriffs in town," Brown said. "Working together, we want to send a very strong message that fraud will not be tolerated."

She said, for example, that she might seek authority to have the secretary of state's office - not the 36 county clerks - check signatures to make sure they are valid and were properly collected by petition carriers.

The Oregon initiative and referendum system was created by voters in 1902. It was touted as a way for common citizens to overcome the influence that railroads and mining companies had over the Legislature and to enact or block laws directly.

But the Nov. 4 election, in which Oregonians voted on eight initiative measures, was far from a grass-roots exercise.

Spending on Oregon initiative campaigns hit $20 million, with public employee unions kicking in $14 million to defeat measures sponsored by conservative initiative authors Bill Sizemore and Kevin Mannix.

The largest individual contributor was reclusive Nevada millionaire Loren Parks, who spent $2 million in support of the Sizemore and Mannix proposals.

This year's initiative campaign also was marked by allegations by a union-funded watchdog group that some signatures on initiative petitions circulated by conservative activists were forged.

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