Dick Meister: The billionaire's bill of rights

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By Dick Meister

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

Billionaire corporate interests and other well financed anti-labor forces are waging a major drive to stifle the political voice of workers and their unions in California that is certain to spread nationwide if not stopped – and stopped now.

At issue is a highly deceptive measure, Proposition 32, on the November election ballot, that its anti-labor sponsors label as an even-handed attempt to limit campaign spending. But actually, it would limit – and severely – only the spending of unions while leaving corporations and other moneyed special interests free to spend as much as they like.

Unions would be prohibited from making political contributions with money collected from voluntary paycheck deductions authorized by their members, which is the main source of union political funds.

 But there would be no limits on corporations, whose political funds come from their profits, their customers or suppliers and the contributions of corporate executives. Nor would there be any limit on the political spending of the executives or any other wealthy individuals. What's more, corporate special interests and billionaires could still give unlimited millions to secretive "Super PACs" that can raise unlimited amounts of money anonymously to finance their political campaigns.

The proposition would have a "devastating impact" on unions, notes Professor John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, writing in  the Hill's Congress blog.  As he says, it would likely all but eliminate political spending by unions while greatly increasing political spending by business interests and wealthy individuals.

 Anti-labor interests are already outspending unions nationwide by a ratio of more than $15 for every $1 spent by unions. Between 2000 and 2011, that amounted to  $700 million spent by anti-labor forces, while unions spent just a little more than $284 million.

 Proposition 32 would even restrict unions in their communications with their own members on political issues. That's because money raised by payroll deductions pays for the preparation and mailing of communications to union members, including political materials.

Unfortunately, there's even more – much more –to Proposition 32. It also would prohibit unions from making contributions to political parties and defines public employee unions as "government contractors" that would be forbidden from attempting to influence any government agency with whom they have a contract.

That restriction applies not only to unions. It also would cover political action committees established by any membership organization,  "any agency or employee representation committee or plan," such as those seeking stronger civil rights or environmental protections.

Proposition 32 seeks to weaken, that is, any membership group which might seek reforms opposed by wealthy individuals or corporations and their Republican allies.  It's no wonder the measure is actively opposed, not only by organized labor, but also by the country's leading good-government groups, including Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.

Yet the proposition's sponsors have the incredible gall to bill their measure as genuine campaign finance reform. They obviously hope that claim, which Common Cause accurately describes as a "laughable deception," will win over the many voters who have been demanding reforms and who, in their eagerness, will fail to recognize the measure's true nature.

"This is not genuine campaign finance reform," as San Francisco State's John Logan says, "but a bill of rights for billionaires."

The losers would include teachers, nurses, police, firefighters and other union members and those who benefit from the essential services they provide – students, the elderly, and the ailing, the poverty stricken, those who work and live in unsafe conditions and other needy citizens, and consumers, environmentalists and others who also are neglected by the profit-chasing corporate interests that dominate political and economic life.

Make no mistake: Lots of money is being funneled into the Proposition 32 campaign by some of the same wealthy backers who bankrolled such anti-labor efforts as the campaign that blocked the massive attempt to recall virulently anti-labor GOP Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin this year.

Should the anti-union forces also prevail, it will undoubtedly lead to what Logan says "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."

Logan adds, "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". But if the measure is rejected, it "may slow the momentum behind other attempts to increase the corrosive impact of money in politics."

It's true that some states already have laws and regulations seriously limiting labor's influence. But it's certain that victory by the anti-labor forces in California will slow any attempts at reform in other states and lead as well to attempts to impose anti-union measures elsewhere, as well as expanding those that already exist.

The stakes are huge. If the 1 percent have their way in California, the country's largest state, other states are certain to follow.

For more from John Logan, check his piece in the East Bay Express, "If you liked Citizen United, you'll love Prop 32." http://www.eastbayexpress.com/ebx/if-you-liked-citizens-united-youll-lov...

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

Comments

So, yeah, this is wrong. Prop 32 specifically forbids both unions AND corporations from making political donations. It is thus a balanced and fair way to reduce special interest influence in California. And it certainly doesn't silence union voices; on the contrary, by banning automatic payroll deductions to be used on measures members may or may not support, Prop 32 gives members back the decision on how to spend their money and what policies, candidates, etc. to spend it on.

Posted by Rosie on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 9:13 am

You are wrong there is a special loophole in this law that DOES NOT LIMIT CORPORATE SPENDING

Posted by Roxanne crane on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 10:55 am

Nope. The text of the proposition specifically says that corporations and unions may make NO donations.

Posted by Rosie on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 11:56 am

Rosie, don't you think if Prop 32 limited CORPORATE spending on political campaigns, corporations would be moving heaven and earth to defeat it? Not so. They are backing it. A little critical thinking goes a long way.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

A billionaire hedge fund manager and LLC owner just donate half a million dollars to the No on 32 campaign. You think Prop32 would benefit him?
http://blogs.sacbee.com/the_state_worker/2012/08/hedge-fund-manager-dona...

Posted by Guest on Aug. 23, 2012 @ 8:00 pm

Sounds to me like the losers in this deal have been the winners for the past how many decades and the ones who have bankrupted this state through bloated wages (excepting front line teachers but look at the huge wages of administrators) huge pensions, lifetime healthcare and have been wielding power in our legislature to the detriment of the average joe. Time is up free loaders!

Posted by SacWorker72 on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 4:31 pm

Sounds to me like the losers in this deal have been the winners for the past how many decades and the ones who have bankrupted this state through bloated wages (excepting front line teachers but look at the huge wages of administrators) huge pensions, lifetime healthcare and have been wielding power in our legislature to the detriment of the average joe. Time is up free loaders!

Posted by SacWorker72 on Aug. 17, 2012 @ 4:38 pm

Meister wrote, "Anti-labor interests are already outspending unions nationwide by a ratio of more than $15 for every $1 spent by unions. Between 2000 and 2011, that amounted to $700 million spent by anti-labor forces, while unions spent just a little more than $284 million."

Posted by Richard Knee on Aug. 20, 2012 @ 2:26 pm