If Proposition 32 did what its supporters claim, "stop special interest money," it would be a welcome relief.
But in reality, this initiative will only diminish the money coming from public employee unions by requiring them to get written permission from members to spend money on campaigns. It would have very little impact on companies, business trusts and rich individuals who also are spreading money around the Capitol and city halls.
Proposition 32 would ban unions and corporations from using automatic paycheck deductions to raise money for political purposes. That might sound reasonable, except that it's loaded. Unions rely on payroll deductions, corporations do not.
While proponents claim it will limit corporate contributions to candidates and their fund-raising committees, analysts say it won't apply to limited liability corporations, real estate trusts or other such business structures. That exemption for investment firms, hedge funds and others is a major reason that the initiative is opposed by the League of Women Voters of California, Common Cause and other good-government groups.
Said a League leader, "Prop 32 promises 'political reform,' but is really designed by its special-interest backers to help themselves and harm their opponents. Despite its proponents' claims, it won't take money out of politics."
Furthermore, Proposition 32 would do nothing to curb independent expenditures or so-called super PACS, which are paying for most of the negative ads and mailers that we are seeing in the 5th Senate District race and other contests. Two years ago, independent expenditure committees helped make the 12th Senate District race between Anthony Cannella and Anna Caballero a $7 million slugfest.
Proposition 32 does nothing to increase disclosure of campaign money. It offers no additional tools to help the Fair Political Practices Commission and prosecutors investigate corruption. It makes no attempt to limit spending on ballot measures.
The full implications of Proposition 32 are not known. The measure would ban donations to candidates from government contractors. The definition extends to public employee unions because they have contracts with the state.
But in an interview with The Sacramento Bee's editorial board, Proposition 32's backers couldn't say whether that contract provision might extend to Indian tribes that have entered into gambling compacts with the state. Perhaps tribes could continue to give freely to candidates, or maybe not. This subject likely would end up in the courts for resolution.
Our recommendation to reject Proposition 32 is not a vote of confidence for public employee unions by any means. They have overreached too often and have too much clout with too many Democrats. And they are willing to devote a lot of money to influence decision making in California, as is evidenced by the fact that unions are the biggest contributors of the almost $46 million raised so far to fight Proposition 32. Lawmakers should take action to make it easier for employees who disagree with union politics to opt out of making campaign donations.
Proposition 32 is simply not serious reform. It would just tilt the system in favor of business interests, which have put in about $9 million to back this measure. Twice before, in 1998 and 2005, voters rejected this kind of deceptive initiative. They should say it again, with a "no" vote on Proposition 32.