The once ubiquitous, and equally scandalous, ISO 9001 pitchman Perry Johnson will not appear on the Michigan ballot for governor after officials disqualified him, alleging fraud.
Michigan law requires candidates to submit at least 15,000 signatures to allow their names to appear on the ballot, and Johnson submitted over 23,000 signatures. However, the Michigan Bureau of Elections found around 9,400 of the signatures submitted by Johnson’s campaign to have been fake, reducing his submission below the required limit. As a result, the BOE denied Johnson the right to appear on the ballot, calling the signatures “forgeries.”
Johnson is suing the state in US Federal Court, demanding that the Court force Michigan to lower the signature threshold solely for Johnson. He is claiming that denying his name on the ballot will “disenfranchise” voters who supported him.
Johnson tried to appeal the BOE’s decision in state court, only to have those swatted down. The Michigan Court of Appeals claimed that Johnson’s filing was crafted “somewhat inelegantly,” and the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Johnson’s argument “plainly lacks merit because he cannot show the Board of State Canvassers had a clear legal duty to certify his name to the ballot.”
Johnson made his name in the ISO 9001 scheme after opening what many consider the world’s first certificate mill. Operating two companies simultaneously, Johnson’s certification company, Perry Johnson Registrars (PJR), would certify the work done by his consulting company, Perry Johnson Inc. (PJI). He ran afoul of the US accreditation body RAB (now ANAB) multiple times, and was eventually forced to divest one of the companies. Johnson handed control of PJR over to his long-time colleague Terry Boboige, and ceased having any control over the certification body wing of his empire.
Johnson was ubiquitous in the 1990s, flooding the market with free VHS tapes extolling his companies, and writing some rudimentary books on the subject of ISO 9001. He has since claimed he is a “quality guru” and ran on this claim during his recent campaign.
Johnson also faced scandal when his company was one of the first sued under new laws against junk faxing, a growing problem in that decade. He then went on to use prison labor for telemarketing, having prisoners make unsolicited “spam” sales calls to potential customers. The prisoners were paid a tiny fraction of minimum wage, as prison labor is the only form of slavery still allowed under the US Constitution.
Despite having used prisoners for telemarketing, rather than hiring actual telemarketers, Johnson’s campaign relied on wild claims about his role in creating US jobs. Johnson falsely claimed to have created every job in the US auto industry in a lavish Super Bowl ad, paid by Johnson himself.
Johnson fell out of the quality assurance limelight for nearly two decades, having stopped publishing any books and ceasing nearly all public appearances. His resurfacing during the Michigan governor campaign shocked many, some of whom has assumed he was dead.
While Johnson’s name became synonymous with “certificate mill” activities, whereby a certification body certifies their own consulting work, the outrage that Johnson faced in the 1990s now seems ironic. In order to compete with certificate mills, the so-called “legitimate” bodies — including ANAB — have worked to loosen rules against certification bodies’ consulting services, and the practice is now more pervasive than ever. Both certification bodies and accreditation bodies now provide open consulting, masking the practice under the guise of providing “opportunities for improvement.” Clients who do not adopt the “suggestions” of certification body auditors are often later threatened with “nonconformities,” a dark practice that reduces the legitimacy of ISO 9001 certifications worldwide. ANAB itself now engages in some of the activities it once chastised the Johnson companies for.
Under Boboige, PJR has seen a resurgence of sorts, as the certification body has remained largely free of scandals, while competitors have seen their logos used on companies involved in all sorts of criminal activities, including human trafficking, heroin smuggling, and workplace labor abuses.