This November’s general election ballots aren’t even printed, and I’m already hearing ads about Proposition 32. It’s clear that Prop 32 will be a heated issue in the upcoming election.
Prop 32 asks, “Should unions, corporations, government contractors and state and local government employers be prohibited from using payroll-deducted funds, or in some instances their own funds, for political expenditures?”
Sounds like a fair idea at first blush, doesn’t it? But think about it: Other than unions, what group uses revenue from payroll deductions for political donations? As the League of Women Voters said, “few, if any.” Under Prop 32, unions, whose major source of income is payroll deductions of membership dues, would have new restrictions on political spending of the vast majority of their funds, while other groups, which have many other sources of revenue, would have no political spending restrictions on the vast majority — or any — of their funds.
By restricting political spending based on the revenue source, Prop 32 effectively restricts unions and almost no other groups. That’s simply unfair.
Moreover, in the post-Citizens United era in which we live, which declares that money equals speech, Prop 32 looks an awful lot like an unconstitutional restriction on unions’ free speech.
It’s popular to label unions “special interests,” a pejorative that’s applied to unions almost exclusively but applies to any group, corporations included. If passed, Prop 32 will squelch the speech of unions but not other special interests groups, such as corporations.
I’m not a union member. What’s more, I often advocate for public employee pension and benefit reform and public employee compensation transparency, positions that hardly endear me to labor unions. But this is matter of basic fairness.
Prop 32’s unfairness reminds me of the unfairness in our tax code that allows GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to pay about 13 percent in federal income taxes (that we know of — who knows what lower rates would be revealed if he released a reasonable number of years of returns, as his own father did and every other presidential candidate of the modern era does) on his income, while working people pay much higher rates. He can do that without spending time in federal prison because the tax code has a loophole, the carried interest exemption, that treats his income differently than it treats earned income.
Similarly, Prop 32 unfairly treats revenue from payroll deductions more stringently than it treats other kinds of revenue.
Moreover, Prop 32 exempts super PACS (many run by large corporate interests) and independent expenditure committees from its restrictions. It also does not apply to spending on candidates for President, the US Senate, or the US House of Representatives.
If you don’t like unions, that’s your right. Unions aren’t perfect, but neither is any other human enterprise, including the corporations of the private sector. But if you dislike unions and value justice, Prop 32 is not the answer. If you support Prop 32 while claiming that you’re being fair and impartial, as many of Prop 32’s backers are doing, you’ve wandered into Orwellian territory.
Prop 32’s deceptiveness reminds me of the GOP’s efforts to impose voter ID requirements; those are done under the guise of protecting the vote. They’re pretending to fix a problem that doesn’t exist (a report found 10 — 10! — cases of in-person voter fraud in the US since 2000) as cover for their efforts to prevent likely Democrats from voting. Those 10 cases are the justification they’re using to disenfranchise millions of voters, most of whom are not Republicans. As a Pennsylvania state Sen. Daylin Leach succinctly put it, “If you have to stop people voting to win elections, your ideas suck.”
Similarly, if you have to impose lopsided rules to stop one side from winning political debates, take a good hard look at your ideas and your methods of communicating them. It’s likely that one or other, or both, to borrow Leach’s phrase, suck.
The answer to speech you don’t like is more speech, not silencing one side while allowing the other side to hog the microphone.
Let’s not game our system, codify unfairness, and hurt our democracy. Join me, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, the California Tax Reform Association, and many others in voting no on the deceptive, disingenuous, unfair, Orwellian Prop 32.