On the surface, California’s Prop 32 looks like a mild reform intended to combat “special interest” money in politics. Upon further review, it is disturbingly anti-union and wildly ideological as it creates loopholes for political action by corporate raiders while preventing unions from using member dues for the same purposes.
This wolf is 100%, machine-made sheep’s clothing, so well disguised that a recent Sacramento Bee poll put 55 percent of Californians in its corner already. With the clock ticking toward November it will take a massive re-information campaign to let the state’s voters know that what they are really voting for: enhanced corporate favoritism.
Thankfully, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has entered the Prop 32 condemnation conglomerate. After learning that his name and an out-of-context quote were being used by Yes on Prop 32 to make it seem as if he was a Prop 32 supporter, Villaraigosa responded via letter to the law firm stating, “Let me be clear. I adamantly oppose Prop 32”:
“Prop 32 purports to be about ‘stopping special interests.’ In fact, Prop 32 strengthens the power of corporate special interests and Super PACs while silencing the political voice of California’s everyday heroes– such as teachers, firefighters and nurses.”
Villaraigosa demanded that the pro-32 camp “immediately remove my name and words from existing and future voter communications” as the use of his name “creates a misleading impression for voters that I support Prop 32. This is patently false.”
This past weekend, Los Angeles Times writer Michael Hiltzik called out Prop 32 as “the fraud to end all frauds.” His important op-ed gives a brief explanation of how Prop 32 is being portrayed to voters.
We’ll start by examining what Proposition 32 purports to do.
On the grounds that “special interests have too much power over government,” the measure bans direct contributions to California candidates by corporations and labor unions. It prohibits the collection of “political funds” from corporate employees and union members via payroll deduction, even if the employee or member voluntarily approves. (That’s more stringent than the previous versions, which merely required that union members give written permission for political expenditures once a year.) Political funds include money spent for or against a candidate or ballot measure or for a party or political action committee, or PAC.
Sounds pretty good so far, doesn’t it? “It looks temptingly like reform,” says Trudy Schafer, program director for the League of Women Voters of California. “But it’s not.”
That’s because Proposition 32 bristles with enormous loopholes tailor-made for businesses and their wealthy backers. To begin with, it exempts such common business structures as LLCs, partnerships and real estate trusts. If you’re a venture investor, land developer or law firm, Proposition 32 doesn’t lay a finger on you.
The drafters, who include conservative attorneys Thomas Hiltachk and Michael Capaldi, know full well that payroll deductions are how unions get almost all of their funds, and businesses get almost none of theirs.
Massive political spending shows no sign of abating despite growing public consciousness about its drawbacks. But spending by corporations and unions has been lumped together in the misinformative media, an unfortunate comparison considering businesses outspend unions by a 15-to-1 ratio. Corporate spending can be done without payroll deductions and therefore represents a false equivocation in the Prop 32 debate:
Today, no big business needs to mulct its employees for piddling weekly deductions for its PAC, when it can shovel out by the trainload any money it has collected via the sale of goods and services. Some corporations do take PAC contributions from employees by payroll deductions, but it’s typically a tiny proportion, mostly concentrated among careerist midlevel executives and above.
“When corporations can just write a check from their general treasury, the idea that this is a meaningful restriction is ridiculous,” says Richard L. Hasen, an election and campaign law expert at UC Irvine. The share of corporate political spending coming from employee payroll deductions “has got to be a drop in the bucket, and putting it in there is just a fig leaf.”
What about the Proposition 32 campaign’s claim that the measure is all about, and only about, reducing the power of “special interests”? In the interest of being fair and objective, we should be very careful about the word we select to describe this assertion. So let’s keep things simple: It’s a lie.
As the AFL-CIO points out, when looking at data, eliminating a union’s ability to deduct payrolls will do little to solve the problem except make it one-sided. In a recent post, the workers’ lobby called California’s Prop 32 “Citizens United on steroids””
Data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Investigative Reporting demonstrates that the business interests who would benefit most from Prop. 32 already dominate California election spending.
Between 2001-2011, business interests spent over $700 million on initiatives, candidates, and parties, while labor unions contributed well under half that amount— just over $284 million. Wealthy individuals bankrolled a further $231 million. Under Prop. 32 neither the spending by business interests nor wealthy individuals would face meaningful limitations—indeed, it would likely explode—while that of unions would be all-but eliminated.