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Proposition 32: The Battle Heats Up

On November 6, California voters will be faced with eleven ballot measures. Ten are initiatives, one is a referendum (what's the difference?), and none of these were legislatively initiated. One of these initiatives is Proposition 32, which is deceptively being peddled as a good government reform. It is not.

Prop 32 would prohibit unions from using funds deducted from payroll for political purposes. The prohibition also applies to corporations and government contractors. Among other things, it would also prohibit unions and corporations from giving campaign contributions directly to candidates or the committees that candidates control.

While it may seem even-handed, it will have a much, much greater impact on unions, dramatically reducing their power, than corporations. Corporations have many other avenues to raise political funds. Money is, after all, power, particularly in political campaigns in California.

So who would support Prop 32, a proposal to similar, rejected ones in 1998 and 2005? Recently an organization connected to the conservative Koch brothers (who have spent enormous sums to support conservative causes and candidates throughout the nation) gave $4 million to a new committing supporting the passage of Prop 32. It is important to note that the non-profit organization that came forward with these funds does not have to report its donors.

Supporters of Prop 32 had previous raised approximately $3 million; opponents have raised more than $36 million. For a breakdown of who is donating (at least of who is legally reportable), check KCET's campaign finance database here.

If you want unions to have much less political power in California but are comfortable with corporations maintaining their current level of control, and you don't mind voting "yes" on ballot initiatives, then you might want to take a look at Prop 32. If you are either opposed to initiatives, or believe in a more even-handed approach to reducing the influence of money in politics, then Prop 32 is not for you.

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.