CAPITOL JOURNAL

Prop. 32's real purpose is to cripple labor unions politically

Backers say Prop. 32 would stop special-interest money from influencing politicians, but the measure actually would tilt the playing field unfairly to the right.

SACRAMENTO — Proposition 32 is stark proof that often you can tell a ballot initiative by its cover.

Its promoters call their measure "The Stop Special Interest Money Now Act."

To pilfer an old Lily Tomlin line: No matter how cynical I get, I can't keep up.

VOTER GUIDE: 2012 California Propositions

Any ballot measure with a handle like that has to be automatically suspect.

Even a cursory look at Prop. 32 shows that it's about a covey of special interests from the right attacking a rival interest on the left, organized labor.

If backers had turned their initiative into an honest debate about curtailing labor muscle — specifically the influence of public employee unions — they would have deserved more serious consideration.

But by deciding to phony it up — crafting what they perceived to be the best marketing pitch based on public opinion surveys — they've created a laugher and an insult to the voters' intelligence.

Promising to stop special-interest money is akin to pledging to halt the Santa Ana winds.

Let's put it this way: Prop. 32 would prohibit unions and corporations from contributing money to political candidates. OK, that has been the law in congressional campaigns for many decades.

Is there anyone who believes that special-interest money does not influence Washington?

There is no complete cure in a democracy for special-interest influence. Nor should there be.

We're all special interests, whether PTA members or individual taxpayers or tobacco peddlers. We want our elected representatives to reflect our views. And we try to influence them, whether merely by voting or also by plying them with campaign dollars.

The ultimate solution to quashing special-interest money influence on politicians is public financing of campaigns. If the public doesn't buy the politicians, as I've often written, the special interests will. And do. But voters seem dead set against spending tax dollars on politicians and their campaign ads and consultants.

Anyway, the U.S. Supreme Court has made public financing unrealistic.

And so-called campaign finance reforms — let's be honest — aren't working, at least in Sacramento.

Politicians, as I've also written, are like insects. Some bugs can adapt to a new pesticide and become tougher and smarter. Same with politicians and "reform." In political Darwinism, the fittest learn to survive in loopholes and outwit each new attempt to sanitize a Capitol.

Perhaps we should allow each candidate to raise whatever amount he or she can from any source, but require the contribution to be immediately reported to the public online. Fast, full disclosure. Shine a light on the special interest — or the billionaire benefactor — and hold the politician accountable.

But back to Prop. 32. It moves in the opposite direction of reform by attempting to tilt the playing field unfairly to the right.

It's the third time around for this type of attempted union maiming. Earlier measures failed in 2005 and 1998.

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