Proponents, Opponents Exaggerate Prop. 32’s Effects

Sept. 6, 2012

By John Hrabe

Labor unions rarely agree with their archenemies, the proponents of paycheck protection.

Proposition 32, the “Stop Special Interest Money Now Act,” has only hardened those battle lines. The measure would substantially change the way political campaigns are financed in California. It would prohibit government contractors from contributing to candidates, ban unions and corporations from imposing payroll deductions for political activities and prohibit unions and corporations from making direct contributions to political candidates.

Proponents of the measure promise that the reform package “removes special interest money from politics” and will “end special interest power.” Opponents say that Prop. 32 is designed to limit unions’ political power, with negligible effects on businesses’ political speech. While the two sides don’t agree on the virtue of limiting unions’ speech, both agree that the measure will substantially decrease unions’ spending on political campaigns.

Gabriella Holt, the president of Citizens for California Reform and co-sponsor of Prop. 32, made that case in a recent San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece. “A vote for Prop. 32 removes the ability of special interests to buy off politicians and put their interests ahead of our children and our families,” she wrote.

Holt’s position is echoed, albeit for different reasons, by the state’s biggest labor unions.

“Prop. 32 would severely restrict union members in both the public and private sector from having a voice in our political process,” the California Labor Federation argues on its No on Prop. 32 website. “As a result, teachers, nurses, firefighters, police and other everyday heroes would be unable to speak out on issues that matter to us all–like cuts to our schools and colleges, police and fire response times, patient safety and workplace protections”

There’s a political incentive for both sides to exaggerate the measure’s effectiveness, but does the measure really live up to the hype?

Labor Unions California’s Most Powerful Special Interest Group

Labor unions, especially public employee unions, are the most influential special interest groups in Sacramento. Case in point, the California Teachers Association’s shameful defeat of Senate Bill 1530.

The bill, authored by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, would have made it easier for school districts to fire teachers that are accused of sexual, violent or drug-related offenses that involve children. But, this no-brainer bill couldn’t muster the requisite votes to pass out of the Assembly Education Committee. The only groups opposed to the bill were the state’s powerful labor unions, including the California Labor Federation, the California Federation of Teachers, the California Professional Firefighters, the California School Employees Association, the California Teachers Association, the Peace Officers Research Association and the United Teachers Los Angeles.

Why on earth would firefighters and police officers support greater legal protections for accused sex offenders and physically abusive teachers?  Prop. 32’s proponents say that’s exactly the point — union leaders don’t share the views of their rank and file members.

“There is a giant disconnect between union members and the union bosses that spend their money,” explained Adam Abrahms, a management-side labor lawyer who also serves as a vice-chairman of the California Republican Party. The state GOP has endorsed Prop. 32. “While roughly 40 percent of union members are Republicans, over 90 percent of labor money goes to Democrats.”

He added, “In the public sector, unions use forced dues to select their bosses and then sit at a one-sided table alongside their chosen politician to divvy up the public largess, without anyone speaking for the taxpayer.”

Proponents say Prop. 32 would correct that problem by allowing rank and file members to opt-out of political dues. Meanwhile, unions could continue to deduct mandatory dues for collective bargaining and other activities.

Unions Spend Billions on Political Activities

Union political spending isn’t chump change. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis from earlier this year, nationally unions supplied federal candidates with more than $1.1 billion in campaign contributions through their political action committees from 2005 to 2011. The Heritage Foundation’s Amy Payne noted that the PAC contributions are supplemented by another $3.3 billion for political activity from non-PAC accounts.

Opponents of Prop. 32 don’t dispute big labor’s big money politics.

“The two largest players, the California Teachers Association and the State Council of the Service Employees International Union, together account for $168 million of spending, well over half of labor’s total spending,” confirmed John Logan, a San Francisco State University professor who is opposed to the initiative . “Prop. 32’s restrictions against spending through payroll deductions — which is how unions raise money for political campaigns — would virtually eliminate this public interest spending.”

Logan’s claim — that Prop. 32 “would virtually eliminate this public interest spending” in California– assumes that unions would sit passively back and fail to adapt to the change in state campaign finance law. Unions in other states sure didn’t throw up their hands and accept defeat.

Washington’s Paycheck Protection: 60 Percent Increase in Union Spending

In 1992, the state of Washington passed one of the country’s first paycheck protection measures. Although labor unions blocked the measure for years with legal challenges, the law itself was largely ineffective.

Six years after Washington voters approved the law, then-Seattle Times columnist Michelle Malkin warned against overhyping Washington’s paycheck protection law. The unions, Malkin wrote, found workarounds that increased their campaign spending.

“No longer able to collect dues for political purposes without consent, but still able to compel general dues collection, the state teachers’ union simply redefined its ‘political’ program as a ‘Community Outreach Program’ and — voila! — $924,000 in political contributions began pouring into its coffers as of April 1993,” the conservative columnist wrote. “That’s 60 percent more in annual political funding than the union collected before I-134 passed. Some protection.”

A 2006 Heritage Foundation report by James Sherk concluded that hard money bans simply increase other soft money spending.

“Unions may well have found ways to circumvent the intent of most of the paycheck protection laws passed by the states, funding ways to spend their members’ dues on politics even when their members object,” the Heritage Foundation observed. “Circumstantial reports certainly suggest that union leaders simply ramp up their unconstrained soft money spending when their members have the option of opting out of hard money donations.”

Human Events’ Doug Stafford offered an even more discouraging point. When it’s all said and done, rank and file members that take advantage of their right to opt-out of mandatory political dues receive negligible refunds.

He wrote, “After all, even if the Supreme Court upholds this law [Washingtons state’s paycheck protection measure], employees will only receive small refunds of no more than $25 per year, because most of the union’s political spending is, by design, outside the reach of this campaign finance regulation.”

Californians could expect a similar result if Prop. 32 passes.

“Prop. 32 does not undermine union’s power to participate in politics,” acknowledged Abrahms.  “It only limits their ability to forcible and surreptitiously take money out of their members’ checks.”

Paycheck Protection Measures Ineffective?

Bradley A. Smith, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and one of the nation’s foremost experts on campaign finance law, has questioned the effectiveness of state paycheck protection measures.

“In reality, however, these paycheck protection laws have not lived up to their advertising or returned a material amount of funds to employees,” he wrote in a 2007 Detroit News opinion piece. “By embracing the campaign finance regulatory approach, its promoters are trying to use the tools of the political left — that is, government regulations — to solve a problem caused by government.”

Smith, who now serves as the chairman of Center for Competitive Politics, can hardly be described as a union shill. He believes “the real problem is that forcing employees to pay any dues — for politics or anything else — is fundamentally unjust.”


Write a comment
  1. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 6 September, 2012, 16:14

    Prop 32 will have a hard time passing, but given the ground swell of support for the NO on 30 (and 38) it is very possible that the anti-30 tide will work to pass Prop 32.

    Reply this comment
  2. Queeg
    Queeg 6 September, 2012, 17:27

    Folks…don’t believe him!

    Reply this comment
  3. Queeg
    Queeg 6 September, 2012, 19:19

    He who barks the most is usually wrong-


    Reply this comment
  4. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 6 September, 2012, 22:16

    Prop. 32 is UGLY.

    The LA Times business columnist wrote in his op-ed, a couple weeks ago, “The perpetrators of this Prop. must think you are stupid–really, really stupid.”

    Reply this comment
  5. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 7 September, 2012, 00:11

    Prop 32 is too cool, and will shut tdown the public employee scams.

    Reply this comment
  6. Queeg
    Queeg 7 September, 2012, 10:15

    When you get a poodle at the pound….consider it Bought And Paid For!

    Reply this comment
  7. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 7 September, 2012, 11:10

    Prop 32 has a great shot at passing 😉

    Reply this comment
  8. LGMike
    LGMike 7 September, 2012, 12:05

    Brads’ comment “the real problem is that forcing employees to pay any dues — for politics or anything else — is fundamentally unjust.”, should be the rallying cry for all persons employed by government or private sector companies. Bargaining for better pay and conditions on behalf of a group is fine, it just doesn’t take millions to negotiate new contracts every 2-5 years. It just takes a a few hours and “union members” could decide whats good or bad and offer to pay “limited expenses” for the extra few hours of work that a true working union member acting as a rep should get. This would probably put several hundred if not thousand dollars back into the employees pocket and in the economy. California needs to pass “right to work” legislation to stop the legal ripoff of employee’s paychecks.

    Reply this comment
    NTHEOC 7 September, 2012, 14:34

    How come prop32 does not stop political donations by large corporations and big money businesses? Because the fat pig corporations pushing this prop want to continue padding their fat pig wallets with record profits off the backs of the workers!! Why not eliminate the workers voice in politics and go back to child labor,12hr work days with no breaks, no sick hours,no vacations, and no workplace safety standards! Wake up people, unions are the last hope for decent worker pay and rights! Even workers who are not union benefit from unions. Time For Middle class first and screw these Evil empire corporate hogs who are trying to eliminate everything you stand for!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply this comment
  10. Queeg
    Queeg 7 September, 2012, 14:38

    Anger solves nothing….your comments are over the line…

    Reply this comment
  11. NTHEOC
    NTHEOC 7 September, 2012, 14:48

    Bring it on queeg!!!!!

    Reply this comment
  12. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 7 September, 2012, 18:47

    Wow, Teddy and NTHEOC in a conflict, hell HAS frozen over 😉

    Reply this comment
  13. Queeg
    Queeg 7 September, 2012, 18:53

    Queeg is shocked at vile posts.

    CWD needs to clean up potty talk!

    Reply this comment
  14. NTHEOC
    NTHEOC 7 September, 2012, 19:12

    Queeg is shocked at vile posts.
    CWD needs to clean up potty talk!
    As opposed to your off the wall comments!! Bring it queeg,let’s see what you got! Oh ya, just a bunch of novice posts after the real comments have posted!! Get back on the bench little sub, we will let you know when it’s your time to play. So check that,HOMEBOY!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply this comment
  15. Queeg
    Queeg 7 September, 2012, 20:05

    Queeg is right…..

    Reply this comment
  16. NTHEOC
    NTHEOC 7 September, 2012, 21:39

    Rex the Wonder Dog! says:
    Wow, Teddy and NTHEOC in a conflict, hell HAS frozen over
    I don’t have a problem with Ted!!! Just queeg.

    Reply this comment
  17. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 8 September, 2012, 01:30

    NTHEOC says:
    I don’t have a problem with Ted!!! Just queeg.

    NTHEOC, Teddy IS Queeg. And Uhaul too 😉

    Reply this comment
  18. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 8 September, 2012, 01:31

    Queeg and Uhaul are Teddy gimmick accounts.

    Reply this comment
  19. Queeg
    Queeg 8 September, 2012, 07:23

    Feel sorry for all of all of you….Queeg is forgiving and compassionate!

    Reply this comment
  20. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 8 September, 2012, 11:24

    Thanks Teddy 😉

    Reply this comment
  21. Queeg
    Queeg 8 September, 2012, 23:32

    Queeg has no time for negative bully posters. Read about that convention bounce. We give and get goodies….it’s Christmas in Sept. Don’t you just love it!

    Reply this comment
  22. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 9 September, 2012, 03:24

    Nov 6= 11-0!

    Reply this comment
  23. Queeg
    Queeg 9 September, 2012, 09:14

    Yes taxes pass…..more goodies for Christmas!

    Reply this comment
  24. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 9 September, 2012, 21:49

    Taxes= DOA

    Reply this comment
  25. Moravecglobal
    Moravecglobal 4 October, 2012, 11:57

    Let’s review how public Cal senior management handled the tax dollars it currently gets. Nobody’s perfect, but some higher education chancellor provost are much less perfect as stewards of public funds than others. University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau ($450,000) Provost Breslauer ($306,000) have forgotten they are steward’s of public money, not overseer of their own fiefdoms.

    Cal tuition triples last decade, Californians income went stagnant.
    Birgeneau, Provost Breslauer do not have a grip on financial realities.
    Pay ex Michigan governor $300,000 for lectures
    Tuition increases exceed national average rate of increase.
    University accrues $150 million of inefficiencies over last 8 years
    Recruits foreign students who pay $50,600 and displace qualified Californians.
    Spends $7,000,000 + for OE consultants to do the work of senior Cal. management. (Prominent East Coast University accomplishes same, 0 costs).
    In procuring $7,000,000 consultants failed to receive proposals from other firms (Consultants do their thinking for them, who they then can blame for all unpopular but necessary decisions)
    Best in nation rank: # 70 Forbes.
    World Academic rank: Falls with 29% increase in salaries. Below top ten QS ranking
    Tuition to Return on Investment drops below top10.
    Cal now is most expensive public university for in-state students.
    Organizational Effectiveness (OE): Birgeneau Breslauer prevent OE from examining Chancellor’s, Provost’s operations for inefficiencies

    It’s all shameful. There is no justification for such irregularities by stewards of the public trust. If Chancellor, Provost don’t understand financial stewardship they have no business being Cal. senior management.

    Chancellor Birgeneau’s self-indulgent practices continue onto violence against students protesting his doubling of instate tuition. University of California Board of Regents Chair Sherry Lansing must vigorously enforce oversight of Cal. Only then will confidence of Alumni, donors, legislators, Californians return.

    (My agenda is transparency. I have 35 years’ consulting experience; have taught at UC Berkeley, where I observed the culture & the way senior management works. No, I was not fired or downsized & have not solicited contracts from UC/Cal).

    Yours is the opinion that can make the difference, email UC Board of Regents [email protected]

    Reply this comment

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