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PD Editorial: No on Prop. 32: A deceptive anti-union reform plan

Money plays an outsized role in politics.

From city councils to the presidency, dollars are a key measure of a candidate's viability. The pressure to raise money — and the threat that it might instead go to an opponent — doesn't end on Election Day. Fundraising goes hand-in-hand with governing.

Proposition 32 purports to "cut the money tie" between special interests and politicians. If it did, we would support it. But Proposition 32 isn't what it claims to be. This deceptive initiative is the invention of one set of powerful interests, and its purpose is to undermine opposing interests. Proposition 32 would magnify the influence of wealthy people and businesses that spend freely on politics while creating a huge obstacle for unions.

If you doubt it, consider this joint assessment from the League of Women Voters and California Common Cause: "Proposition 32 claims to be &‘political reform' but in reality was intentionally written to create special exemptions for billionaire businessmen and business special interests, giving them even more political power to write their own set of rules."

Proposition 32 would prohibit corporations (but curiously not real estate trusts or limited liability corporations) and unions from making direct contributions to political candidates in California. While that's attractive, the impact would be limited. With contribution limits in place for candidates, the big money already is going to independent expenditure committees that wouldn't be affected. Neither would initiatives.

The problem with Proposition 32 arises from a provision that would ban all corporations and all unions — public sector and private — from using payroll deductions to collect money for political purposes.

That may sound fair, but it's not. By and large, corporations don't raise their political money through payroll deductions. For unions, payroll deductions are the primary method of collecting political money as well as dues.

Union members already can opt out of contributing money for political purposes, and Proposition 32 supporters have presented no evidence that the present system isn't working.

But by eliminating payroll deductions for those who want to contribute, Proposition 32 would create a new and costly burden for unions, making it more difficult for them to participate in politics. That's why anti-labor interests, such as Charles and Edward Koch, billionaire brothers from Kansas, are pouring millions into this campaign.

Regular readers of this page know that we have concerns about the political influence of public employee unions. It comes in part from campaign spending. Restricting their ability to spend while leaving other interests intact strikes us as unfair, especially at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has erased restrictions on corporate and labor spending.

There's another source of influence for labor: Union members, especially public employees, vote. The influence of all special interests would be reduced, without arbitrary rules targeting one side or another, if more people followed that example. The Press Democrat recommends a no vote on Proposition 32.


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