If you liked Citizens United, you’ll love Prop 32
by John Logan, East Bay Express
Californians are used to ballot initiatives that claim to
do one thing, but in reality do exactly the opposite. But even by the
standards of misinformation now commonplace in our elections,
Proposition 32 ‘ which its supporters call "Stop Special Interest Money
Now" ‘ really "takes the giddy biscuit," as P.G. Wodehouse’s idle rich
buffoon Bertie Wooster (or, for that matter, Mitt Romney) might say.
So what does Prop 32 say it would do and what would it really do? Its
supporters claim that Prop 32 ‘ written by the law firm of the
California GOP ‘ is a balanced measure that limits corporate and union
influence on state elections, to the extent allowed by federal election
Indeed, pro-Prop 32 ads focus on spending in Sacramento by AT&T
and PG&E, rather than on spending by labor unions. In reality, "Stop
Special Interest Money Now" would do nothing of the sort. Though
AT&T and PG&E (both unionized firms) are undoubtedly peeved at
being singled out, Prop 32 would have almost no impact on the ability of
corporate executives to contribute unlimited money to candidates or
campaigns, but would have a devastating impact on the ability of unions
to participate in state politics. Its restrictions on unions are so
sweeping that it would prevent them from communicating with their own
members on political issues.
Worse still, Prop 32 would enhance the ability of Super PACs and
other wealthy groups that are exempt from the measure to dominate
elections. This is not genuine campaign finance reform, but a bill of
rights for billionaires, one that would be a game-changer in California
California voters have twice before, in 1998 and 2005, rejected
right-wing attempts to destroy labor’s political voice. Unable to win by
honest means, conservative groups decided to come up with something
more deceptive ‘ and more dangerous ‘ this time around.
To appreciate just how deceptive this measure is, one has to
understand who supports and opposes it, and why. Prop 32’s principal
backer, the Lincoln Club of Orange County, co-produced Hillary: The Movie, which was at the heart of Citizens United,
the 2010 Supreme Court decision that has led to a flood of special
interest spending. The Lincoln Club boasted it was "instrumental" in
pushing Citizens United, and celebrated the decision as a victory for political free speech.
In the context of the debate over campaign finance reform, the idea
that the Lincoln Club now opposes special-interest spending is the
equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny. Since its founding in 1962,
the Lincoln Club has sought consistently to weaken rules that stop Big
Money from dominating elections, and Prop 32 would go a long way to
achieving that goal.
Other backers of Prop 32 include Orange County anti-union activists
and right-wing billionaires (often one and the same), and the usual
suspects among Republican activists. And if the polls are tight come
November, we will likely see an influx of pro-Prop 32 money from the
same 0.1 Percent currently funding conservative Super PACs at the
Opposed to Prop 32 are the nation’s leading good-government groups ‘
Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and others. Common Cause
California has accused the measure’s conservative backers of "trying to
use our anger and mistrust to change the rules for their own benefit"
and of "laughable" deception, while the League of Women Voters says that
Prop 32 is "not what it seems, and it will hurt everyday Californians."
Sacramento Bee Senior Editor Dan Morain, meanwhile, says the initiative "wears a soiled white hat" and is "dripping with cynicism."
If Prop 32 passes in November, right-wing activists will promote a
tsunami of ballot initiatives in 2013 at the local level and in 2014 at
the state level designed to drive down working conditions in both the
public and private sectors. Lacking the ability to oppose these
reactionary measures under the new election rules, California’s workers
could soon face the weakest labor standards in the country.
So what is the likelihood of Prop 32 winning? If the election were
held next month, Prop 32 would almost certainly pass, largely because of
its disingenuous framing and advertising. But come November California
voters should see through the deception behind the initiative. The labor
movement and its progressive allies are much better at defeating
measures they oppose than winning measures they support, and if Prop 32
is rejected, this may slow the momentum behind other attempts to
increase the corrosive impact of money in politics. Given the
misinformation being put out by the Yes campaign, however, it will take a
huge effort to defeat it and the election may turn out to be a
Let’s be perfectly clear: Prop 32 is not a good starting point, nor
is it an imperfect but well-meaning effort to limit the influence of
special interests in Sacramento. It is a highly deceptive measure that
would greatly enhance the political influence of billionaires, Super
PACs, and conservative business interests, and undermine the ability of
working Californians to have a voice in state elections.
In short, if you liked Citizens United, you’ll love Prop 32.