This editorial was published Sept. 23 by the Sacramento Bee editorial board
Once again, Californians are being asked to diminish unions’ power by restricting their ability to raise campaign money.
Once more, initiative promoters are trying to mislead voters by claiming to offer campaign finance reform. But just as they did in 1998 and 2005, voters should reject the deception by voting down Proposition 32, a transparent power grab that purports to “stop special interest money.”
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, not corporations. Unions would be restricted from raising money from their 2.5 million members, but corporations and rich individuals could continue spreading money around the Capitol and city halls.
Proposition 32 has bright and shiny provisions designed to lure unwary voters. It claims to ban union and corporate donations directly to candidates. In fact, it might limit some corporate campaign money, but only on the margins.
Corporations, like unions, increasingly dump their millions into supposedly independent campaigns to support and oppose candidates.
Proposition 32 would do nothing to curb independent expenditures.
Nor would Proposition 32 increase transparency of campaign money. It offers no additional tools to help the Fair Political Practices Commission and prosecutors investigate corruption. It makes no attempt to deal with ballot measure spending.
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 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. Courts might have to sort that out if 32 passes.
Our recommendation to reject Proposition 32 is not a vote of confidence for public employee unions. They have overreached too often and have too much clout with too many Democrats. Lawmakers should take action to make it easier for employees who disagree with union politics to opt out of making campaign donations.
But Proposition 32 would tilt the system in favor of corporations and business trade groups.
Cynical proponents hope to lull voters into thinking Proposition 32 is a reform. It’s not. Voters have every reason to worry about the impact of big money in the political system. However, Proposition 32 is no reform.