Behind the Prop 32 Curtain

by Steve Smith, California Labor Federation, California Progress Report

Many ballot propositions are deliberately written to be confusing. There’s usually a hidden agenda. Case in point: Prop 32.

Its backers say it’s about ‘stopping special interests.’ That sounds nice, right?  But, as usual, the devil’s in the details. When you take a closer look, it’s clear that Prop 32 isn’t what it seems. While it eliminates the collective voice of union members in politics, it’s riddled with exemptions for corporate CEOs, billionaires and corporate special interests.

In a recent op-ed in The Guardian (UK), San Francisco State professor John Logan wrote Prop 32 isn’t genuine reform, rather a ‘bill of rights for billionaires.’

To understand what’s really going on, you have to pull back the curtain to see who these billionaires are and what they really stand for.

All the funders and backers of Prop 32 are exceedingly wealthy. They write six-figure checks to advance their political agendas without blinking en eye. They live a life of privilege that most of us will never know. And they’re downright hostile to the interests of working people.  

There’s former Oracle executive Thomas Siebel, who’s already chipped in a half-million dollars. While not a household name, this guy is worth $1.8 billion, and he’s not afraid to spend it to push his extreme agenda. In 2008, he introduced Sarah Palin at a rally by saying, ‘Sarah Palin represents the best in each and every one of us.’ He called her ‘an optimist, thoughtful, energetic, engaging’the embodiment of pure, unadulterated good.’

Siebel is also a big donor to former Bush strategist Karl Rove’s Super PAC, which receives a special exemption under Prop 32. And he’s chomping at the bit for Super PACs like Karl Rove’s to take over California if he can get workers out of the way.

Then there’s billionaire Charles Munger Jr, who’s already in for a cool $450,000. Munger is a longtime Republican activist who uses his inherited fortune to try to rig the system to his favor. He also gives big money to Republican candidates.

Bill Bloomfield Jr. has ponied up $300,000. Bloomfield is a real estate tycoon and Republican candidate for Congress. Like most of the funders, Bloomfield owns a number of companies that are LLCs, which, of course, are exempt from the provisions of Prop 32.

And let’s not forget about the Lincoln Club of Orange County. The Lincoln Club is the brainchild of this measure, as well as previous anti-union measures Prop 75 and Prop 226. They’re a group of corporate bigwigs and business executives in Newport Beach. And in addition to trying to bust unions and do corporations’ bidding, the Lincoln Club is known for something else. They were the driving force behind the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that gutted federal campaign finance reform and led to the rise of the Super PACs. The Lincoln Club describes its role in the Citizens United case as ‘instrumental.’

The irony is overwhelming. Here is a group of wealthy anti-union business executives that’s now trying to fool the public into thinking they’re about improving government by stopping special interests.

And the rest of the donors are all card-carrying members of the 1%. They have names like William H. Draper III and Preston B. Hotchkis. They’re multimillionaire developers and Wall Street hedge fund managers. They couldn’t care less about working people. What they care about is making more money.

Prop 32 isn’t the end game for these billionaires and corporate special interests. It’s only the beginning. If they succeed in tricking voters this year, they will strike with frightening efficiency to consolidate power. If you’re a billionaire, that’s good news. If you’re a member of the 99%, that notion ought to scare the hell out of you.

If these guys are able to push workers aside to pursue their agenda, it means everything from overtime pay and prevailing wage for workers to funding for schools and public safety is at risk. It means there won’t be anyone left to stand in their way when they try to strip away laws that protect worker safety and our environment.

Prop 32 is a sucker punch. If the billionaires land it, the next punch will follow quickly. And that would likely be a knockout to California’s middle class.

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