Prop 32 loss shows voters not fooled
If there was one big reason why “paycheck protection,” known on last Tuesday’s ballot as Proposition 32, failed for the third time in the last 16 years, it was this: The concept by itself is simply unfair.
Like its predecessors in 1996 and 2005, Proposition 32 aimed to deprive labor unions of their voice in California politics while not touching corporations or the billionaire political class that has become increasingly active in elections.
This time around, paycheck protection tried to hide behind a bit of a fig leaf, but it didn’t work. Even the television commercials aired by the extremely well funded “yes” campaign had holes in them wide enough to drive several trucks through.
The fig leaf was this: Rather than just banning unions from using member dues for political purposes unless members sign off for it every year, this one also included a provision banning direct contributions from both unions and corporations to political candidates.
So there was the surface appearance of even-handedness. But the reality is that most corporate and individual donations don’t go to candidates anymore. Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that lets corporations spend unlimited amounts on politics, most corporate campaign money has gone to so-called “independent expenditure committees.”
These are nominally beyond the control of candidates, even though many of them have been headed by recent former aides of the politicians the so-called “Super PACs” support.
The intent of 32, then, was to deprive labor unions of much of their political capital while letting corporations and the ultra-rich keep pouring as much cash as they like into their own causes and candidates.
One way to equalize this would be to put corporate shareholders on an equal footing with union members.
Let both classes of citizen have the power to withhold their money from political uses. If union members get the power to restrict use of their dues, shareholders should be able to say no to political spending by companies in which they invest, in proportion to the shares they own.
So far, no one has attempted an evenhanded initiative like this, with the potential to dramatically reduce political spending on all sides.
Proposition 32 backers, including the state Chamber of Commerce, clearly knew this idea has great public appeal; hence the design of the fig leaf they deployed this time.
But plenty of others saw through it instantly, and the many TV commercials for 32 that were funded by the likes of the Kansas oil-baron Koch brothers, producer Jerry Perenchio and billionaire heir and physicist Charles Munger Jr., were almost laughably amateurish.
“No loopholes, no exceptions,” one ad blared, over and over and over. But the loopholes were obvious to anyone who looked beyond the mere text of the commercials.
There was plenty of room for corporations and the extremely wealthy to keep donating, and even labor unions could easily have found loopholes too, by creating social action committees to spend the union dues money that now goes to politics.
This was a classic case of the sort of inept and dishonest lawmaking that gives ammunition to critics of the initiative movement.