This measure is not the campaign finance reform measure its proponents say it is. Proposition 32 promises “political reform” but is really designed by special interests to help themselves and harm their opponents. It looks like a campaign finance reform measure but unfairly targets one set of large campaign donors while giving other donors unlimited power. Its ban on payroll deductions for political giving will affect unions but not corporations, and even the restriction it places on contributions to candidates by corporations is full of loophole exemptions. It does not fix the problem of money in politics; Super PACs and independent expenditure committees will continue to spend without limitation.
This initiative is similar to Prop 226 of June 1998 and Prop 75 of November 2005, which sought to curtail union contributions to campaigns. The League opposed both initiatives, which failed to pass.
But Prop 32 has deceptive provisions that go beyond those of Props 226 and 75. It is not what it seems—it promises "political reform" but has been designed by special interests to help themselves and harm their opponents.
This measure prohibits both unions and corporations from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes—so-called “paycheck protection”—which sounds balanced. But almost no corporations use payroll-deducted funds for political giving; so this prohibition is really aimed just at the unions. That's not a fair or balanced approach to reform.
Corporations could still use corporate funds for allowed political activities without permission from individual stockholders to do so. In addition, corporate executives can personally fund political campaigns that benefit their corporations; Proposition 33 on this ballot is an example of this.
Prop 32’s restrictions on corporations do not apply to large numbers of business entities, including limited liability companies, limited partnerships, real estate investment trusts, and sole proprietorships.
Prop 32 prohibits corporations and unions from making direct contributions to candidates but does not prohibit them from contributing funds to ballot measure committees.
Despite its claims, Prop 32 will not take money out of politics, because it exempts Super PACs and independent expenditure committees from its provisions. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allows these groups to spend unlimited amounts of money. They have already spent more than $95 million in California elections since 2004. Prop 32 does nothing to deal with that.
Some may say, “This is unbalanced, but it's a step forward.” However, the sponsors of Prop 32 are trying to use our anger and mistrust about what is happening in Sacramento to change the rules for their own benefit. Restricting just unions and their workers will result in a political system that favors corporate special interests over everyone else. Prop 32 was intentionally designed to do that.
If campaign finance reform is to pass, it must be a fair and even-handed effort to close loopholes in the law, rather than a purely partisan effort to eviscerate political opponents. All money in politics must be affected equally.
A longtime member and past president of the Palo Alto League of Women Voters, Sandy Eakins helped organize Smart Voter, an initiative that provides unbiased election information for California voters. She co-founded New Voices for Youth, a LWV program designed to encourage civic engagement with high school students through the media arts.