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Proposition 32: Another Money Pit?

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A 2011 rally in San Francisco that included the California Federation of Teachers, which has put up money against Prop 32. | Photo: Berkeley Unified School District/Flickr/Creative Commons License

One of my least favorite things about the ballot initiatives process is the huge sums that those in favor and against these measures typically shell out during the election cycle. This is particularly true for the initiatives which, like bad pennies, just keep coming back every few election cycles. Proposition 32, the so-called "Paycheck Protection" initiative is no exception.

The measure, if approved, would prohibit union and corporate contributions to state and local officials (which may be only a minor problem for these groups because they can just make independent expenditures), prohibit contributions from government contractors to politicians who have a say over their contracts, and prohibit corporations and unions from using automatic payroll deductions for political purposes without their members' permission. That last prohibition will likely cut the legs out from under unions when it comes to their ability to raise and spend political funds. Under our current campaign finance system such a decrease in fundraising and spending ability correlates to a marked drop in political power.

If Prop 32 sounds familiar, it should. We've seen it before in 2005 and in 1998. In less than fifteen years we've seen the same idea on the ballot three times. And yet, here we are again -- fundraising, spending, and fighting.

Those against Prop 32 have raised more than $18 million. Opponents of the initiative are likely to outspend proponents. (See who's funding both sides of the issue here.)

It is somewhat difficult to predict how Prop 32 will fare. Spending against proposed measures is typically more effective than spending for those measures. That would indicate that this proposal is headed for its third defeat. However, voters are likely harboring greater anti-union sentiments than they were in the past few years.

One has to wonder whether those whose paychecks are funding the anti-Prop 32 war, the paychecks that measure would purportedly protect, would have preferred not to wage this battle at all.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

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