California Propositions: Prop. 32

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If you’ve turned on the TV over the past month or so, chances are you’ve heard ads for and against Prop 32.  Ads that say things like:  Corporations and unions give politicians millions in contributions.  They get tax breaks and big pensions.  We get higher taxes and wasteful spending.  There’s a better way…..” 

Or this: “It’s really a deceptive proposition, stuffed with special exemptions for the oil companies, Wall Street, and those secret campaign SuperPACs…”

Prop 32 takes on the hot button issue of campaign financing. Specifically–it would ban unions and corporations from using automatic payroll deductions for political purposes.  It would also prohibit unions, corporations, and many state contractors from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-controlled campaign committees. Democrat Gloria Romero is a former state Senator and now serves as state director for a political action group called Democrats for Education Reform. She supports Prop 32. “I served in the legislature for well over a decade, so I basically was in the belly of the beast.  I’ve seen firsthand the great power, the great influence and sway from both the left and the right–from corporations and from public sector unions–in influencing legislators to unfortunately not always do the right thing.”

Romero said Prop 32 would slow the flood of special interest money into state politics and–in her words–help the people get their government back.

Romero is a card-carrying union member from her days as a professor at Cal State LA.  She said Prop 32 still gives union members the right to make political contributions through automatic paycheck deductions.  They could specify that each year in writing. “It will allow individual rank-and-file union members to basically make their own choice on which candidate or which cause or which initiative they wish to contribute money to. So, rather than silencing the voice of the workers, this empowers the workers,” Romero said.

One of the opponents of Prop. 32 is Chris Carson, campaign finance program director for the non-partisan League of Women Voters of California, which opposes Proposition 32. “We don’t feel that it’s true reform,” said Carson, “in fact, it’s moving in the opposite direction.”

Carson said for starters, it’s unbalanced.  She said most corporations rely on revenue–not paycheck deductions–as their source for campaign contributions. So Prop 32 would not affect corporations’ ability to make political donations. “The measure exempts a whole group of people, such as extremely wealthy individuals, limited liability partnerships, attorneys, public accountants, hedge funds, investment groups.  They will be able to make these contributions,” said Carson.

When it comes to unions, Carson said union workers already have the ability to opt out of having a portion of their paycheck go to political contributions. Under Prop 32, unions–some of them with thousands of members—would be required to get written permission from each member each year to automatically deduct political donations from their paychecks. Carson said that would be a logistical headache. “It sets up an extremely cumbersome process whereby you’ve got to go to everybody every year from now on. And that is going to significantly and negatively impact a very large segment of California’s voting population from making effective use of their right to campaign.”

One thing both sides agree on–Proposition 32 would not affect the kind of money we’ve seen pouring into PACs and Super PACs this election season.

Meanwhile, the Yes on 32 and No on 32 camps are raising serious money to try to win over voters. Between the two of them, they’ve taken in more than $100 million so far.