Drafters of Proposition 32 call it the “Stop Special Interest Money Now Act,” or “Paycheck Protection Initiative.” In its preamble, it says it aims to reduce the influence of special interests on the political process. But reading the language of the entire initiative may leave voters wondering if the measure does what the title suggests and does it in a fair and balanced way.
The ballot label reads: “Prohibits unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Applies same use prohibition to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors. Prohibits union and corporate contributions to candidates and their committees. Prohibits government contractor contributions to elected officers or their committees.”
The intent of Proposition 32 is to level the political playing field by weakening “special interests’” clout within the system. But while it does restrict unions’ ability to raise money to influence elections, it does not place similar practical constraints on corporations and other special interests.
The difference is in dues. Union members pay dues to have their leadership represent them in the collective bargaining process. Employers often automatically deduct union dues from all payroll checks, but only with employee permission under current California law. For many years, unions have used some of these dues for political contributions, independent expenditures or other political spending, as is permitted under California law. This measure prohibits those deductions, even if the contributions are desired, sought and preapproved by individual union members.
Critics note that few if any corporations receive or deduct dues. Proposition 32 only targets political spending from paycheck deduction, leaving other means of influencing the political process unchecked.
The measure also proposes to ban both unions and corporations from making direct donations to politicians, which critics cite as an arguable infringement of free speech, but exempts certain businesses that are not legally “corporations” under current law — limited liability companies (LLC), limited liability partnerships (LLP), limited partnerships (LP), business trusts, real estate investment trusts (REIT) and sole proprietorships are all exempt and can make direct donations to politicians.
Proponents urge reining in “special interests,” without differentiating among those special interests. The Wall Street Journal candidly notes that the initiative is aimed at one special interest primarily. “If California voters hope to stand a chance of reining in such benefits and fixing their dysfunctional state, they’ll have to break the government union political monopoly this November.”
With any ballot initiative, voters can learn much about it by following the money. Millions are being spent to both pass and defeat this initiative. Major donors in support include: American Future Fund, a 501(c)(4) formed to “provide Americans with a conservative and free market viewpoint to have a mechanism to communicate and advocate on the issues that most interest and concern them,” Stanford physicist Charles Munger Jr., First Virtual Group Chairman Thomas M. Siebel and Baron Real Estate Chairman William Bloomfield, Jr.
Leading opposition funders include: California Teacher Association, California State Council of Service Employees, California Professional Firefighters, California School Employees Association and the California Labor Federation.
A Contra Costa Times editorial urges a “no” vote as do other editorial boards in the state such as the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle, Ventura County Star, San Jose Mercury News, Chico News and Review and La Opinion.
The San Bernardino County Sun, the San Diego Union Tribune and the Orange County Register support the measure.
The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates investigative and regulatory costs of $1 million annually.