Proposition 32 – Prohibits Political Contributions by Payroll Deductions. Prohibitions on Contribution to Candidates. Initiative Statue
File this proposition in the same category as the recent troubling efforts in Pennsylvania (Requiring voters to produce ID to vote despite no instances of voter fraud), Florida (efforts to bar early voting and to stop the League of Women’s Voters’ registration drive), Ohio, and other battleground states to systematically eliminate the political power of one particular group. (For more depth on the 180 restrictive laws that have passed in 41 states since 2011, checkout the non-partisan Brennan Center’s Summary of Voting Law Changes and in an interesting Los Angeles Times piece on the the recent federal court decision to restore early voting in Ohio)
This proposition is the latest effort (following rejection by voters in 1998 and 2005) to restrict political fundraising by unions by prohibiting the use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Cleverly, this time proponents claim to impose the same use restriction to payroll deductions by corporations or government contractors. Of course, there is one minor problem with that concept: Unions primarily raise their political lobbying funds through payroll deductions; corporations never raise their political lobbying funds that way. The effect will be to completely remove financial influence by unions from politics while leaving largely intact the business interests that commonly stand against them – no matter where you stand on unions, that proposition should offend. A hearty political system should never use itself to eliminate one side of the debate from contention.
The proposition includes some other limitations on expenditures by both unions and corporations (although curiously some businesses are exempted) directly on campaigns, but notably does nothing to restrict so-called “independent expenditures” – those moneys that fund the so-called “Super PACs.” We do not analyze those at length because they have little impact compared with the proposition’s primary objective.
We should also briefly address the issue of unions in general. In our view the question of whether they do or do not act properly is outside of the scope of this analysis. Certainly, there will be individuals who are in industries that are dominated by unions who are “forced” to join a union if they want to work for a particular employer and then may be “forced” to pay into that union’s particular lobbying fund – not an attractive proposition. However, from a policy standpoint, that scenario is not substantively different from one where investors invest in companies that provide political contributions to causes that the investors do not support – in effect “forcing” the investors to support those causes with their funds. We might support a proposition that allows stockholders and union members to “opt-out” of such funds, but that isn’t before us in this proposition. Here, the only question is whether we should outlaw the sole fundraising mechanism used by one particular type of political association – unions. We think that would dramatically undermine our political system.
According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, unions expended an eye-popping $284 million on political lobbying in 2010-2011, a number dwarfed by the $931 million spent during the same time-frame by wealthy individuals and corporations.
We would like to see our political system move more towards monetary disarmament, but at the moment, our system relies more on mutually assured destruction. In that environment, a democracy cannot afford forced unilateral disarmament. We agree that there is too much money in politics, that special interest groups including public employee unions and corporations have held too much sway in Sacramento at various times, but we find a proposal that seeks to financially emasculate only one side of that political debate to be patently unfair and frankly dangerous to the overall system of government.