So-called 'reform' measure turns into $100 million battleground
Unions have also reached out to young people. "Voters 18 to 35 are a key demographic," says Daly. "They tend to be much more progressive voters and more concerned about corporate power."
For years the anti-union movement has argued that payroll deductions for political use without consent from employees is unethical and corrupt. They're also one of the few ways working people can compete with wealthy corporate donors in politics and are necessary to keep the playing field somewhat balanced.
So while the corporate world is contributing money to silence one side of the debate, the other is using money to keep its voice alive. According to Maplight — a nonpartisan research group that tracks money in politics — spending on 32 has surpassed $100 million, with supporters spending roughly $45 million and the opposition $58 million.
THE FINAL PUSH
And there's still a significant amount of money to be spent before November 6. The campaign finance database on Secretary of State Debra Bowen's official website breaks down the 18 committees formed to support or oppose the measure. Of the five pro-32 committees, three have a combined $7 million dollars left to spend on their agenda while eight of the 13 opposition committees have roughly $9.7 million left.
The labor folks argue that their big money is different than big corporate money. "When we put money into a campaign its money that's been cobbled together from a lot of people," says Heins. "There's a big difference with CTA putting in money as opposed to Munger putting in a check of $20 million that he won't even miss."
In addition to direct support from wealthy individuals like Munger, Prop. 32 has received money from a number of political action committees that aren't required to disclose their donors. So while it's pretty clear who the teachers union is and what its members want, its hard for voters to know the agenda of The American Future Fund — a PAC that's donated $4 million raised from anonymous sources.
AFF has close ties to right-wing billionaires Charles and David Koch — but their names aren't anywhere on any disclosure forms. "The ability to hide behind large PACS is corrosive and I think everybody knows it," says Barbara O'Connor, Emeritus Professor of Communications at California State University, Sacramento.
The campaign financing behind Prop 32 is symptomatic of what's happening across the country in the world the US Supreme Court has created with its Citizens United decision. At the national level, the Obama and Romney campaigns combined will have spent more than $1 billion by Election Day. While the President's campaign has spent more money, Romney's camp has benefited from enormous amounts of outside cash from super PACS, erasing Obama's edge.
Could this be a new normal for election spending and campaigning?
O'Connor says change will likely come sooner than later. But as Prop. 32 demonstrates, that change will be tricky. What would happen if 32 passed? Would other states follow? Would one-sided campaign laws be the next frontier in reform?
"Discourse has gotten more bipolar," says O'Connor, noting the change in the political atmosphere since Citizens United became law.
What everyone wants to know is whether or not this is the new normal for elections. "I think people on both sides are seeing the impact and skewing of citizen voting and once the fury calms down it will change. You're going to see a big shift in how we campaign after this election."