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Sign saying united we bargain divided we beg
Even in California, we have to either
hang together, or hang separately.
November 2012 will be a cataclysmic showdown between the forces of democracy and the forces of unlimited wealth. If we lose this, the plutocrats will be in charge and will be able to write their own rules to further the interests of Wall Street and the one percent. If we lose this fight, anti-democratic legislation will continue to sweep across the nation, overwhelming the grassroots support and small-dollar contributions of those who dare to fight against overwhelming odds.

And I'm not talking about the reelection campaign of Barack Obama. No, this battle to the death between moneyed interests and working people will play out in California in the form of Proposition 32. This measure, proponents say, would ban both corporate and union contributions for most political purposes and make citizens reign supreme. But progressives here have taken to calling it the "special exemptions act."

The first clue that something is seriously wrong with this measure is, simply put, who put it on the ballot. The measure was submitted to the secretary of state's office by Ashlee Titus and Tom Hiltachk, who happen to be of counsel for the law firm that also includes Charles Bell, lead counsel for the California Republican Party. You might ask why the lawyers for the Republican Party would put a measure on the ballot that would theoretically leave small donors as the backbone of political spending in California. It's a good question, until you look at the fine print. Let's start with the first article of the initiative.

Notwithstanding any other provision of law and this Title, no corporation, labor union, or public employee labor union shall make a contribution to any candidate, candidate-controlled committee; or to any other committee, including a political party committee, if such funds will be used to make contributions to any candidate or candidate controlled committee.
Sounds tolerable, right? Ban corporations and unions from making political contributions, and the little guys will have the run of the field. Right? Wrong, for two reasons.

(Continue reading below the fold.)

First, if the authors of the measure only wanted to see personal contributions accepted, they would have written it that way. They didn't because there are a whole bunch of entities out there that aren't technically corporations. Sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs, LLPs, hedge funds and a whole bunch of other types of businesses do not fall under the definition of a corporation as written in the measure. These businesses will still be able to contribute directly to campaign committees, but labor unions will be barred.

Second, take a look at the last phrase very carefully:

[...] if such funds will be used to make contributions to any candidate or candidate controlled committee.
So, contributions are barred, but only if they're going to committees that also make contributions. You know what type of committee doesn't make contributions? Super PACs! Yes, the wording of this provision specifically exempts contributions to Super PACs, who will still have free reign, regardless of anything else in the law.

Now, at this point, you might be saying: Well, it isn't so bad. After all, even with non-corporate businesses able to make direct contributions, and even with corporations and billionaires able to fund Super PACs, at least labor unions will be able to fund their own Super PACs, right? It may be a different model, but still legal. Right? Wrong again. Let's move on.

§85151 (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law and this Title, no corporation, labor union, public employee labor union, government contractor, or government employer shall deduct from an employee's wages, earnings, or compensation any amount of money to be used for political purposes.

(b) This section shall not prohibit an employee from making voluntary contributions to a
sponsored committee of his or her employer, labor union, or public employee labor union in any manner, other than that which is prohibited by subdivision (a), so long as all such contributions are given with that employee's written consent, and that consent shall be effective for no more than one (1) year.

Sure, a labor union could theoretically contribute to a Super PAC—but with what money? Unions fund their political activities through paycheck deductions, and this initiative bars that process. It's written in such a way that corporations and unions get equal treatment, but when was the last time you heard of a corporation that funds its political activities through deduction of its employee paychecks? In California, corporations fund their activities through sponsored PACs or simply from their general treasury funds. Technically, union members could still voluntarily contribute to their union's political committees, but even then, it would have to occur through annually given written consent. This would undoubtedly create a huge logistical nightmare for any union that wanted to have a voice in the political arena. And even then, it could only have that voice through a Super PAC, and not a direct contribution—unlike all the businesses that this measure exempts.

The bottom line is this: If Proposition 32 passes, billionaires, Wall Street and business interests will rule California politics, and our allies in labor will be powerless to stand up to them. They will purchase competitive elections in swing districts, and fund blue dogs in Democratic districts. They will use the "citizen initiative" process to rewrite California's laws and constitution as they see fit, while progressive opponents will be hamstrung and relegated to trying to find our own billionaires willing to invest altruistically in the public good.

Progressivism in California will wither on the vine, and our activists and funders will be too busy trying to defend our own backyard against corporate control to be the nationwide ATM we historically have been. If Proposition 32 succeeds—or if it even comes close—they will use its deceptive language as a model to silence workers' voices in other states. Scott Walker will seem like child's play compared to what could be coming.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 06:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Dream Menders.

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