Friday, August 24, 2012

Prop 32 is Citizens United on Steroids.

Prop 32 Is Citizens United on Steroids
The truth about who dominates California elections and why
Proposition 32 would make it even worse.

by John Logan

In a recent op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, conservative
columnist Margaret Bengs revealed the true motivation behind
Proposition 32, this year's most deceptive ballot initiative
- a desire to eliminate entirely organized labor's voice in
California politics.

Bengs railed against political spending by the California
Teachers Association, and was particularly offended that, in
addition to protecting public education, the teachers union
opposed Prop 8, the state's anti-same-sex-marriage measure.
"It is well known," Bengs proclaimed, that the CTA and other
public sector unions "have an inordinate control over
California government."

The problem with Bengs' column is that, like Prop 32 itself,
it provides a fundamentally misleading message. In reality,
our elections are dominated by wealthy business interests
and by billionaires, not by unions, and Prop 32 would make
that situation much worse.

So who really dominates California politics, and how would
Prop 32 change that?

Data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Investigative
Reporting demonstrates that the business interests and
billionaires who would benefit most from Prop 32 already
vastly outspend labor unions in the state and spend
overwhelmingly on measures promoting their own self-

Between 2001 and 2011, business interests spent more than
$700 million on initiatives, candidates, and parties, while
labor unions contributed well under half that amount - just
over $284 million. Wealthy individuals, including many
billionaires, bankrolled another $231 million. Under Prop
32, neither the spending by business interests nor wealthy
individuals would face any meaningful limitations - indeed,
they would likely explode - while that of unions would be
all but eliminated.

Among business interests, the biggest spenders in California
include Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
(PhRMA) of Washington, DC, with more than $71 million; PG&E,
with more than $66 million; the Chevron Corporation, with
more than $50 million; Aera Energy of Bakersfield, with more
than $33 million; and the tobacco giants, Virginia-based
Philip Morris and North Carolina-based R.J. Reynolds, with a
combined total of $65 million. Other major players include
the California Association of Realtors, the California
Building Industry Association, and the California Chamber of

Much of this spending was on ballot initiatives designed to
provide special breaks for corporations. Prop 32 would not
fix that problem - its many exemptions mean that
corporations would still spend a lot of money on campaigns
and Super PACs. The only corporate spending prohibited by
Prop 32 would be direct contributions to candidates and
parties. Corporations would still be perfectly free to spend
tens of millions of dollars - and more - on ballot measures
(which is, for example, what PG&E spent most of its money
on) and on independent expenditures to get the politicians
they like elected.

Then there's the election spending by California's
wealthiest individuals. Over the past decade, the top fifty
individual contributors to initiatives, candidates, and
parties spent more than $231 million. Prop 32 would have no
impact on spending by these billionaires; in fact, their
already considerable influence would likely increase

Two of the top three billionaire spenders in California -
former Univision chairman and CEO Jerry Perenchio and
Charles Munger Jr., a wealthy Palo Alto Republican activist
and son of Berkshire Hathaway billionaire Charles Munger -
have together spent more than $30 million in the past
decade, and are major contributors to the Prop 32 campaign.
The last thing California needs is a measure that would
increase the ability of billionaires, who are actively
seeking to silence the voices of schoolteachers,
firefighters, and nurses, to dominate our politics.

The Center for Investigative Reporting's figures also
demonstrate that unions are major players in California
politics. The two largest players, the California Teachers
Association and the State Council of the Service Employees
International Union, together accounted for $168 million in
spending, well over half of labor's total political

The biggest single contributor, the teachers union, has
spent heavily to protect funding for K-12 public education
and to limit class sizes for California students - not for
corporate tax breaks. Prop 32's restrictions against
spending through payroll deductions - which is how unions
raise money for political campaigns - would virtually
eliminate labor's voice. Labor would technically still be
able to participate in independent expenditures and ballot
measures, but the payroll prohibition would decimate unions'
ability to raise funds for those purposes. Unions depend on
payroll deduction; corporations and billionaires do not.

If Prop 32 were to pass, it would slash spending in support
of public education and safety, while encouraging massive
contributions by tobacco, pharmaceutical, and real estate
giants. And we would soon see numerous state and local
ballot measures targeting wage-and-hours laws, paid sick
leave, health and safety provisions, and other essential

Under Prop 32, the wealthy business interests and
individuals who have spent almost a billion dollars over the
past decade would wield even more power in Sacramento, while
ordinary Californians would be stripped of an effective
voice.  It is no wonder that its principal backers are card-
carrying members of the One Percent, while the nation's
leading good governance groups unequivocally oppose this
cynical effort at deception.

Prop 32 is the polar opposite of even-handed campaign
finance reform. It would turn California elections into
Citizens United on steroids.

[John Logan is professor and director of Labor and
Employment Studies at San Francisco State University.]

[Many thanks to Prof. Logan for sending this to Portside, so
that it can be shared with our readers.]

East Bay Express
August 22, 2012



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