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Monday, July 30, 2012

California's Proposition 32: The next big, deceptive corporate attack on working families

by David Atkins

Never content with record income inequality and corporate profits, America's billionaires are forging ahead with an attempt to destroy what is left of the labor movement. And they're doing it by attempt to use anti-corporate populism to fool the voters In California, that takes the shape of the odious Proposition 32 in California, which does this:

"Restricts union political fundraising by prohibiting use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Same use restriction would apply to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors. Permits voluntary employee contributions to employer or union committees if authorized yearly, in writing. Prohibits unions and corporations from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-controlled committees. Other political expenditures remain unrestricted, including corporate expenditures from available resources not limited by payroll deduction prohibition. Limits government contractor contributions to elected officers or officer-controlled committees"

Here's how the Yes on 32 campaign, funded by Republicans and corporate backers, is selling it:

Special Interests control Sacramento. Corporations, business associations and unions gave $89 million to state politicians & campaigns for the 2010 elections alone. The special interests will stop at nothing to defeat this proposition - spending millions, spreading lies and misinformation - to keep politics as usual. We need your support to fight back.
The measure kills special interest spending! Awesome! Except the only spending it kills are from entities that take payroll deductions. There's only one type of entity that does that: unions.

And based on the anti-special-interest wording alone, the early polling is showing this deceptive proposition well ahead:

The early polling shows 60-28.9% support for CTA-opposed Proposition 32, the measure that would further tilt the political landscape in favor of wealthy special interests that already outspend labor unions by a 15 to one ratio.
The California Democratic Party Executive Board just met in Anaheim this weekend and officially endorsed against this measure. Obviously, labor in California will be engaged in a big push against it.

But the only real antidote to this deceptive power grab by corporate America against working families is education. This is one of the most deceptive measures ever put on the California ballot: what we can do to help (beyond getting involved in phonebanking and precinct walking--contact your local Dem County Committee if you live in California) is have conversations with everyone we know, letting them know that this Trojan Horse is not what it seems. As The Guardian says:

Californians are used to ballot initiatives that claim to do one thing, but in reality do exactly the opposite. However, even by the standards of misinformation now commonplace in our elections, November's most controversial ballot measure, Proposition 32 – which its supporters call "Stop Special Interest Money Now" – really "takes the giddy biscuit", as Bertie Wooster (or, for that matter, Mitt Romney) might say.

So what does Prop 32 say it would do, and what would it really do?

Its supporters claim that Prop 32 is a balanced measure that limits corporate and union influence on state elections, to the extent allowed by federal election law. Indeed, pro-Prop 32 ads focus on spending in Sacramento by AT&T and PG&E, rather than on spending by labour unions.

In reality, "Stop Special Interest Money Now" would do nothing of the sort. Though AT&T and PG&E (both unionised firms) are undoubtedly peeved at being singled out, Prop 32 would have almost no impact on the ability of corporate executives to contribute unlimited money to candidates or campaigns, but would have a devastating impact on the ability of unions to participate in state politics. Its restrictions on unions are so sweeping that it would prevent them from communicating with their own members on political issues. Worse still, Prop 32 would enhance the ability of super political action committees (PACs), and other wealthy groups that are exempt from the measure, to dominate elections.

This is not genuine campaign finance reform but a bill of rights for billionaires, which would be a game-changer in California politics. California voters have twice before rejected rightwing initiatives to destroy labour's political voice, in 1998 and 2005. Unable to win by honest means, conservative groups decided to come up with something more deceptive this time round.

To appreciate just how misleading this measure is, one has to understand who supports and opposes it, and why. Prop 32's principal backer, the Lincoln Club of Orange County, co-produced Hillary: The Movie, which was at the heart of the 2012 landmark supreme court decision Citizens United and which led to a flood of special interest spending. The Lincoln Club boasted it was "instrumental" in pushing Citizens United, and celebrated the decision as a victory for political free speech. Since its founding in 1962, the Lincoln Club has consistently sought to weaken rules that stop big money from dominating elections, and Prop 32 would go a long way to achieving that goal.

Other backers of Prop 32 include Orange County anti-union activists and rightwing billionaires (often one and the same), and the usual suspects among Republican activists. And if the polls are tight come November, we will likely see an influx of pro-Prop 32 money from the same 0.1% currently funding conservative super PACs at the federal level. Opposed to Prop 32 are the nation's leading good-government groups – Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and others. Common Cause California has accused the measure's conservative backers of "trying to use our anger and mistrust to change the rules for their own benefit" and of "laughable" deception, while the League of Women Voters says that Prop 32 is "not what it seems, and it will hurt everyday Californians". Sacramento Bee senior editor Dan Morain, meanwhile, says the initiative "wears a soiled white hat" and is "dripping with cynicism".

If Prop 32 passes in November, rightwing activists will promote a tsunami of ballot initiatives designed to drive down working conditions in both the public and private sectors. California's workers could soon face the weakest labour standards in the country.
This is the biggest threat to California's future in decades. It's up to all of us to stop it.