A battle to the finish over California’s Prop 32

The deceptively named Proposition 32, “Stop Special Interest Money,” is being funded by shady corporate front groups unleashing a torrent of money as Election Day nears.

But the California Labor Federation and its community and social justice allies have mobilized an army of volunteers to defeat the proposition.

Prop. 32 is a corporate dagger aimed to cripple labor’s ability to preserve and expand on hard-won social gains benefitting all working-class families and small businesses, especially in these hard economic times.

It’s the third such attempt in the last 14 years; those in 1998 and 2005 were defeated handily.

Prop. 32 purports to treat corporations and unions equally by banning both from contributing directly to political campaigns, and barring both from automatically collecting dues for political purposes from employees.

But corporations rarely gather their political money from employees’ directly. Instead, they draw from corporate profits squeezed out of workers’ labor.

Corporations can pour unlimited amounts of money into politics through so-called “limited liability companies,” super PACs and nonprofit outfits bankrolled by anonymous wealthy individuals and companies.

But unions rely mainly on membership dues for political purposes.

The California Labor Federation reported that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told an Oct. 17 rally there that Prop. 32 is “the most deceptive measure that I’ve ever seen,” which if passed would “throw California back to the political stone age.”

The mayor noted that corporations don’t ask their shareholders for permission when they bankroll political causes, while unions decide which issues and candidates labor will support or oppose after a democratic vote of the membership.

The proposition would in effect give corporations and the rich even more power in California, while banning workers’ collective voice, which the mayor called “The last best tool that working men and women have in this state to make their voices heard.”

L.A. County Federation of Labor head Maria Elena Durazo told the large crowd of mostly Latino workers, “When we fight for changes in laws, whether they are health and safety, for a cleaner environment, for the rights of the LGBT community, in anything that affects social issues that affect your community, the labor movement is there. We change laws to make sure that all workers are protected, that all workers are respected, because we believe that all workers have dignity.”

The anti-Prop. 32 campaign includes a wide cross-section of social and community groups and movements that see a strong labor movement as an indispensible partner in the struggle to defeat the right wing and promote a progressive agenda.

In a blast at the Koch brothers, Big Oil magnates who have so far put $ 4 million behind Prop. 32, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune declared, “It’s not enough for (the Kochs) to pollute our air, our water, our atmosphere – now they want to pollute our elections as well!”

Brune recalled that in 2010, the Kochs were among the corporate interests boosting a deceptively worded initiative that tried unsuccessfully to overturn AB 32, California’s landmark climate change law.

Prop. 32 is being funded largely through the Small Business Action Committee (SBAC).

But one won’t find a single business owner, big or small, much less a “mom-and-pop shop” on SBAC’s website.

Since it is technically an “issue advocacy” group, SBAC is exempt from disclosure requirements that cover campaign advertising, and would continue to be so if Prop. 32 were to pass.

In fact, all of SBAC’s big backers would conveniently be exempt from Prop. 32.

Some of the same interests backing Prop. 32 are also seeking to defeat Prop. 30, a measure which would tax high incomes to fund public education. Prop. 30 is supported by Governor Jerry Brown and the state’s labor unions.

Last week, in a move that drew a flurry of outrage and calls for scrutiny, the Arizona-based nonprofit Americans for Responsible Leadership (ARL) dumped $11 million into SBAC’s coffers. The big business PAC seeks to defeat Prop. 30 as well as pass Prop. 32.

After California Common Cause asked the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate, the commission filed suit in Sacramento County Superior Court.  A judge ruled Oct. 25 that ARL must say by early next week why it refuses to reveal who donated the $11 million. A ruling is expected early next week.

Common Cause says the client roster of the law firm responsible for incorporating ARL includes groups tied to the billionaire Koch brothers and to infamous Republican operative Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.

As an indication of how seriously unions are taking the threat of Prop. 32’s passage, the Contra Costa Times reports that labor unions have collectively invested $43.4 million to defeat the measure.

Were Prop. 32 to pass, it is doubtful workers would be able to pull their financial resources together through their unions to effectively fight the right-wing corporate onslaught.

Photo: Image of anti-Prop. 32 literature, via the California Federation of Labor Facebook page.


Juan Lopez
Juan Lopez

Juan Lopez is chairman of the Communist Party in northern California and statewide coordinator. He has been a labor and community activist during the nearly forty years he's lived in Oakland, where he and his wife raised three children. He was formerly a member of the Teamsters union and a shop steward.