California’s Prop 32: The Billionaires’ Bill of Rights

Prop 32: The Billionaires’ Bill of Rights

By Dick Meister
August 22, 2012

Billionaire corporate interests and other well
financed anti-labor forces are waging a major drive
to stifle the political voice of workers and their
unions in California that is certain to spread
nationwide if not stopped – and stopped now.

At issue is a highly deceptive measure, Proposition
32, on the November election ballot, that its anti-
labor sponsors label as an even-handed attempt to
limit campaign spending. But actually, it would limit
– and severely – only the spending of unions while
leaving corporations and other moneyed special
interests free to spend as much as they like.

Unions would be prohibited from making political
contributions with money collected from voluntary
paycheck deductions authorized by their members,
which is the main source of union political funds.

But there would be no limits on corporations,
whose political funds come from their profits, their
customers or suppliers and the contributions of
corporate executives. Nor would there be any limit
on the political spending of the executives or any
other wealthy individuals. What’s more, corporate
special interests and billionaires could still give
unlimited millions to secretive “Super PACs” that
can raise unlimited amounts of money
anonymously to finance their political campaigns.

The proposition would have a “devastating impact”
on unions, notes Professor John Logan, director of
labor and employment studies at San Francisco
State University. As he says, it would likely all but
eliminate political spending by unions while greatly
increasing political spending by business interests
and wealthy individuals.

Anti-labor interests are already outspending unions
nationwide by a ratio of more than $15 for every $1
spent by unions. Between 2000 and 2011, that
amounted to $700 million spent by anti-labor
forces, while unions spent just a little more than
$284 million.

Proposition 32 would even restrict unions in their
communications with their own members on
political issues. That’s because money raised by
payroll deductions pays for the preparation and
mailing of communications to union members,
including political materials.

Unfortunately, there’s even more – much more -to
Proposition 32. It also would prohibit unions from
making contributions to political parties and defines
public employee unions as “government contractors”
that would be forbidden from attempting to
influence any government agency with whom they
have a contract.

That restriction applies not only to unions. It also
would cover political action committees established
by any membership organization, “any agency or
employee representation committee or plan,” such
as those seeking stronger civil rights or
environmental protections.

Proposition 32 seeks to weaken, that is, any
membership group which might seek reforms
opposed by wealthy individuals or corporations and
their Republican allies. It’s no wonder the measure
is actively opposed, not only by organized labor, but
also by the country’s leading good-government
groups, including Common Cause and the League of
Women Voters.

Yet the proposition’s sponsors have the incredible
gall to bill their measure as genuine campaign
finance reform. They obviously hope that claim,
which Common Cause accurately describes as a
“laughable deception,” will win over the many voters
who have been demanding reforms and who, in
their eagerness, will fail to recognize the measure’s
true nature.

“This is not genuine campaign finance reform,” as
San Francisco State’s John Logan says, “but a bill of
rights for billionaires.”

The losers would include teachers, nurses, police,
firefighters and other union members and those who
benefit from the essential services they provide –
students, the elderly, and the ailing, the poverty
stricken, those who work and live in unsafe
conditions and other needy citizens, and
consumers, environmentalists and others who also
are neglected by the profit-chasing corporate
interests that dominate political and economic life.

Make no mistake: Lots of money is being funneled
into the Proposition 32 campaign by some of the
same wealthy backers who bankrolled such anti-
labor efforts as the campaign that blocked the
massive attempt to recall virulently anti-labor GOP
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin this year.

Should the anti-union forces also prevail, it will
undoubtedly lead to what Logan says “will promote a
tsunami of ballot initiatives in 2013 at the local
level and in 2014 at the state level designed to drive
down working conditions in both the public and
private sectors.”

Logan adds, “Lacking the ability to oppose these
reactionary measures under the new election rules,
California’s workers could soon face the weakest
labor standards in the country”. But if the measure
is rejected, it “may slow the momentum behind
other attempts to increase the corrosive impact of
money in politics.”

It’s true that some states already have laws and
regulations seriously limiting labor’s influence. But
it’s certain that victory by the anti-labor forces in
California will slow any attempts at reform in other
states and lead as well to attempts to impose anti-
union measures elsewhere, as well as expanding
those that already exist.

The stakes are huge. If the 1 percent have their way
in California, the country’s largest state, other states
are certain to follow.


Dick Meister is a San Francisco-based columnist
who has covered labor and politics for more than a
half-century as a reporter, editor, author and
commentator. Contact him through his website,

About Mad Scientist

Member of California Association of Professional Scientists
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