Apparently simple on its face, Proposition 32 does three simple things:
1) bans direct corporate and union contributions to state and local candidates;
2) bans contributions by government contractors to the politicians who control contracts awarded to them; and
3) bans automatic deductions by corporations, unions, and government of employees’ wages to be used for politics. (Summary)
On its face you wouldn’t think that this would be particularly controversial, but just under the surface are fundamental concepts that impact California at every level. In this first commentary in a small series, I am going to examine only the third of these factors. Let’s take a quick look at the reasons why this Proposition is so important to the state.
First, you have to understand how unions collect their dues. Unions collect dues from each union member directly from their paychecks. These dues go primarily to pay for political campaign contributions and secondly to manage and run the union. The typical ratio between the political portion of the dues and the management portion of the dues is about nine times as much money spent for politics for each one dollar spent for management of the union. A union member can opt out making the otherwise mandatory political contribution, but only by going to the union office, going to their union representative, asking for the forms so that they can stop funding the work of that union representative and then give those filled out forms back to that union representative. Needless to say, less than 1% of union member brave this intentionally intimidating process and opt out of union political payments.
The only change to this process under Proposition 32 is that union members would now have to sign up for the political contribution portion of the union dues. In other words, union members would actually have a real personal choice. If they agree with the actions taken by the union bosses they can continue to contribute to the political lobbying. If they would rather increase their take home pay and instead of paying for the political lobbying, that is again their choice. That is it – that is the only change made to this process by Prop 32.
Because of this virtually mandatory collection of political contribution dollars, unions have wielded unprecedented power in California virtually controlling the political landscape. The California Fair Political Practices Commission lists the top sources of political contributions for all state level races. The TOP EIGHT places are ALL UNIONS. The California Teachers Association spent more than $230 MILLION on campaign contribution while the California Prison Guards Union spent a little over $200 MILLION. The top private corporation on the list by contrast was the semi-private Southern California Edison which contributed approximately $35 million.
This unfair playing field has directly led to the state’s pension crisis as every Democratic candidate (and frankly many Republican candidates as well) are properly concerned that if they deny the unions they will lose the next election because they will be deprived of a crucial source of needed campaign funds. This has led to the complete domination by the Democratic party for the past decade.
There has already been a lot of political advertising about this proposition, and most of the arguments against it are simply wrong (to be nice) or intentional lies (to be honest). I encourage everyone to read the text of Proposition 32 for themselves, it is not particularly long or complicated. (Full text of Proposition 32)