Proposition 32 claims to be a reform measure, a good-government proposal to rid state and local elections of the special-interest money that increasingly dominates in political races around the country.
But it isn't. In reality, Proposition 32 is a deceptive measure that would disproportionately weaken some special interests while leaving others essentially unaffected. Those who have seen its list of backers will not be surprised to learn that it would have a devastating effect on labor unions' political fundraising efforts and only a trivial impact on corporate spending. Voters should reject it.
It is true that Proposition 32 would prohibit both corporations and labor unions from making direct contributions to California political candidates and ballot measures. It would also ban government contractors from contributing to elected officials involved in awarding their contracts.
But the most significant provision would ban all corporations and all unions — public sector as well as private — from using payroll deductions to raise money for political spending. That may sound evenhanded, but the truth is that unions raise their political money overwhelmingly through payroll deductions from their members, while corporations rarely use payroll deductions.
The chief argument for this provision is that it would prevent unions from taking money for political purposes from members who don't support the union's political objectives. But proponents have not convincingly shown that a critical mass of members feel cheated by the current system. Besides, workers join unions voluntarily; if they disagree with their union's political positions, they can quit. Nonunion members who pay "fair share fees" to be covered by the union's collective bargaining agreements are allowed to opt out of paying that portion of the fee that goes to political activities.
If the proposition were really seeking to protect union workers, it would have been simpler and less damaging to mandate an easy method for union members to opt out of paying the portion of their dues that goes to political spending.
Proposition 32 is backed by wealthy Republicans such as Charles Munger Jr. and former Univision CEO A. Jerrold Perenchio, as well as the American Future Fund, which makes independent expenditures on behalf of conservative causes and candidates. Surely they understand that corporations, unlike unions, rely on their treasuries rather than payroll deductions to make political contributions in California, and that they do so without asking permission of shareholders, employees or customers.
To be clear, nothing in Proposition 32 stops any group from making independent expenditures on behalf of campaigns; the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that independent expenditures cannot be restricted. What's more, the ban on direct corporate contributions wouldn't apply to limited liability corporations or real estate trusts.