COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | TOM LEMMON

Prop. 32 an attempt to make corporations more powerful

There’s been a good deal of confusion and misinformation in recent weeks about Proposition 32, one of the most important items on November’s ballot. Proposition 32 was intentionally written to deceive voters, and so it’s crucial that we tell the real story of what Proposition 32 is trying to do before it’s too late.

Plain and simple, Proposition 32 is a play by millionaires and corporations to clear the political field and make their money even more influential. To do it, they’re using the most cynical tactics imaginable: trying to trick voters by playing on their perfectly legitimate fears that big money political spending is threatening the voice of average Americans.

Supporters of Proposition 32 will claim that it’s fair and balanced, applying equally to unions and corporations. But they’ve loaded it up with so many special exemptions that ultimately it’s only working people who would lose out.

Proposition 32 targets a particular source of funding that’s rarely used to support corporate spending but would effectively block unions from participating at any level by creating new obstacles for union members to spend their money how they want.

Sadly, many of the measure’s supporters go so far as to claim that workers would still be able to opt in to participating in politics through their paycheck deduction. That’s just not true.

First of all, it’s important to remember in this discussion that the mechanism being targeted by Proposition 32 is already voluntary. The Supreme Court made sure it was voluntary in their Beck ruling in 1988.

If this measure passes, the effect would be that no worker in California would even have the option to have money deducted from their paycheck for political purposes — no matter how much they might want to. That isn’t choice or empowerment, that’s a corporate chokehold on how workers can spend the money they earn in order to boost the influence of corporations and millionaires.

When you listen carefully to what Proposition 32’s supporters are saying, they actually concede that this measure is specifically designed to target unions while packing in enough special exemptions that corporations would be able to continue spending freely.

Indeed, the only thing that would change is that there would be no counterbalance to all that unregulated corporate money.

The Center for Responsive Politics has examined political spending in great detail, and the current climate isn’t pretty for anyone who’s serious about campaign finance reform. Corporations already outspend unions on politics by a margin of 15-1, and Proposition 32’s version of reform would be to eliminate the one and keep the 15.

That’s why leading good government groups like the League of Women Voters and Common Cause are outspoken in opposition to Proposition 32. They’ve worked for years on legitimate campaign finance reform to empower people instead of corporations, and they know a wolf in sheep’s clothing when they see it.

California can’t undo the federal rules that allow that unbalanced margin. But what Proposition 32 would do is ensure that all big money goes through super PACs so it’s unregulated and unlimited. That means that not only do everyday Californians lose their voice, but millionaires and corporations also will be free to buy elections with no public accountability at all.

In a Proposition 32 world, millionaires, corporations and Wall Street would still be free to spend as much as they have been this cycle through super PACs, and reports show that more than $350 million have gone into super PACs already this election. Just recently the Koch brothers devoted $4 million to a shadowy effort supporting Proposition 32.

There are two possibilities with Proposition 32, and voters will have to ask themselves: What’s more likely? That millionaire and billionaire super-funders of political causes across the country are spending millions to silence their own voices? Or that the very people behind the Supreme Court case that opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate money are hoping to trick voters and finish the job so they can use their money to take full control of our political process?

California has seen these tricks before and rejected them in 1998 and 2005. But apparently the message isn’t clear enough, because we’re back trying the same thing, this time with even more deception.

If Proposition 32’s supporters are successful in cutting working people out of the political process, it would signal open season on the most fundamental rights of all working people, union and nonunion. A living wage, overtime pay, worker safety rules, even collective bargaining would be at risk, and the people who rely on those basic protections would have no voice.

Stopping Proposition 32 is the only way to begin stemming the tide of special interest money. If we don’t, the chance may be lost forever.


Lemmon is the business manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council AFL-CIO overseeing 23 trade union affiliates. For more information about the Building Trades Council, visit sdbuildingtrades.com.

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