Should voters approve Proposition 32, or the “Paycheck Protection Initiative,” it would change the law by prohibiting corporations, labor unions, government contractors and government employers from using employee payroll deductions for political purposes. It would also prohibit contributions from government contractors to officials on committees, which have the power to decide which companies receive government contracts.
Supporters of the measure say it will allow individuals, not corporations or unions, to choose which people and issues they want to support. “Proposition 32 cuts the direct money tie between special interest groups and politicians,” said Yes on Prop 32 spokesperson Jake Suski. “It doesn’t prevent unions from collecting money from their members. It forces them to ask their members for money and provides more accountability and transparency into the system.”
Opponents say Proposition 32 is disguised as campaign finance reform, but it is merely a way to silence unions while increasing the influence of big corporations and Super PACs, or political action committees. These groups often support a candidate or political issue by pledging unlimited funding; much of the time, contributions are made by anonymous donors. Proposition 32 opponents say less than 1 percent of corporations use employee payroll deductions to fund political campaigns, whereas more than 90 percent of unions raise funds for political campaigns through payroll deductions.
“It is important to note that it is not what it seems,” said Tenoch Flores, communications director for the California Democratic Party, of Proposition 32. “It is a deceptive measure that was intentionally crafted to exempt billionaire businessmen and Super PACs from being subjected to the same rules that working men and women are. It’s pseudo-reform.”
Major opponents of Proposition 32 include large unions such as the Service Employees International Union/California State Council of Service Employees, the California Faculty Association and the California Labor Federation, while supporters include the California Republican Party and the American Future Fund, an organization established to promote conservative, free-market beliefs.
This is the third such ballot measure to be up for a vote in the span of 15 years. A similar initiative, Proposition 75 on the 2005 ballot, was defeated with 53.5 percent of voters against it. It would have required prior consent from a public employee each year in order to use their dues for contributions to political campaigns. Proposition 226, on the 1998 ballot, also failed when 53.23 percent of Californians voted no. It would have required employers and labor organizations to obtain member or employee permission before withholding dues or fees for political contributions.
The interest groups on both sides of this issue have moved from the boardrooms and onto television screens and billboards across California, attempting to sway voters with ads about Proposition 32. As of October 27, groups on either side of the debate had collected a combined total of $128.2 million.
Both campaigns have attracted donors who have made sizeable contributions. A total of 23 donors have contributed $100,000 or more apiece to support the campaign against Proposition 32, which has collected $59.4 million from just those donors. That’s compared to 27 benefactors contributing $100,000 or more—who together have given a total of $68.8 million—to support Yes on 32. The most prominent among them is Charles Munger, Jr., a physicist from Palo Alto and GOP political donor. He has donated in excess of $30 million in support of Proposition 32. (Munger’s father’s investment partner was Warren Buffett.)
Both sides agree—and the independent California Legislative Analyst’s Office does, too—that it would cost an estimated $1 million or more annually for state and local government agencies to oversee and implement the guidelines imposed should the proposition pass. Supporters say this is a cost they are willing to incur if it results in a change in the way politicians operate within the government. This would be an unnecessary added expense for state and local governments, opponents say.
The National Federation of Independent Business, an organization that represents approximately 20,000 small business owners in California and 350,000 nationally, is helping with the campaign to support Proposition 32. They want politicians to be interested in what the voters want and less interested in what unions and large corporations are lobbying for, said John Kabateck, the California executive director.
“Business owners are scared about what tomorrow will bring them, their small businesses, employees and their families,” Kabeteck said. “They are outright frustrated with a government that continues to be in gridlock and with government leaders who simply aren’t listening to them, that are instead choosing to place special interest above theirs.”
Trudy Schafer, the senior director for programs for the League of Women Voters of California, an organization that works to educate voters about legislation, says the league opposes Proposition 32 because they believe it is unbalanced and unfair. “We’ve studied campaign financing and Proposition 32 tries to make itself sound like its campaign finance reform, but it is not reform,” Schafer said.
The supporters of Proposition 32 present the proposed changes as if they apply to everyone, when in fact they are aimed at unions, Schafer said. Employee union dues usually include deductions for campaign contributions. On the other hand, there are very few corporate businesses that use payroll deductions to raise money to make political contributions, Schafer said.
“If it were to pass, it would be essentially silencing the voice of one part of many of the discussions about where governments should go, what government should do,” Schafer said. “It would not silence other voices, specifically corporations and businesses.”
Oakland resident Sylvia Aguirre recently attended the Bushrod Park area neighborhood candidate’s forum at the North Oakland Senior Center so that she could hear from the candidates and about some of the issues that will appear on the ballot. She works for a company that is represented by a union, and said she believes passing Proposition 32 would make fundraising for political campaigns more difficult for unions. Aguirre said that the initiative’s supporters are using some of the language of last year’s Occupy protests to sway people into believing they are looking out for the best interests of the average worker. “They say that Prop. 32 helps keep money away from corporations,” Aguirre said. “Everyone knows people are done with the big conglomerates.”
But, said Aguirre of the ballot measure, “I think it’s just down-and-out anti-union.”
At the California Democratic Party Day of Action phone-banking event, this weekend, there were burgers and links cooking on the large grill stationed outside of the campaign headquarters in downtown Oakland. Next to the chips and the tomatoes were “No on 32” stickers and flyers. Oakland and Alameda County firefighters, who hosted the barbecue, offered food and information to anyone interested in learning more about the ballot measure.
“Both sides need to have a voice, and what they are trying to do is silence working-class men and women,” said Shawn Stark, an Oakland firefighter and member of the executive board for the International Association of Firefighters Local 55.“If this were truly a fair and balanced approach why would these outside entities be spending millions of dollars to influence politics in California? Because we are one of the most pro-union states in the country—they know if they can take unions out in California that they are going to be able to take out unions and the Democratic Party nationwide.”
A woman named Lana, who declined to give her last name but said she works for a technology company in the Bay Area, was passing by the barbecue and decided to stop and ask for additional information about Proposition 32.
“I don’t understand what is wrong with prohibiting the corporations and unions from giving money to the candidates,” Lana said to one of the firefighters after listening to his explanation of the measure. It is good to vote no for a union, but for an employee who is part of a corporation, I think it’s good to say yes. This is a good thing because I don’t want my corporation to pay money, in my name, to a candidate whom I do not support. And if I vote yes on that proposition, it will prohibit that.”