No More ‘Wisconsin’ in the West: Why We Must Defeat Proposition 32

It’s Citizens United on Steroids, a Bill of Rights for Billionaires

Last week, I addressed how the Governor’s tax measure was needed to stop the cuts to education and vital public services.  The passage of Proposition 30 would indeed help California begin to turn the corner and finally stop the hemorrhaging of our education system.  But where the passage of Proposition 30 would bring hope, the passage of Proposition 32, on the other hand, would kill it.

Proposition 32, the Special Exemptions Act, is a corporate power grab that would totally eliminate unions’ ability to take part in politics while leaving the rich, corporate special interests, and Super PACs untouched.  It is Citizens United on Steroids, a Bill of Rights for Billionaires that would permanently eliminate working peoples’ voices from California politics.  At present, corporate interests already outspend unions by nearly 15-1.  What Proposition 32 would do is transform the political contest in California, where the privileged are already playing with a stacked deck, into a hopelessly rigged game.

On its face, the message of the campaign for Proposition 32 sounds good.  The pro-32 forces have deceptive commercials and other campaign materials that use AT&T and other powerful corporate interests as examples of how money has corrupted our politics.  These ads tell us that “special interests” have too much influence on our government.  And, revealingly, these misleading ads don’t even mention unions.  So many of us might, if we didn’t go beneath the surface, support Proposition 32.

The problem with the Proposition 32 message is that it is a lie.   After failing with Proposition 226 in 1998 and Proposition 75 in 2005, the folks at the Lincoln Club of Orange County (the same gang that brought us the Citizens United case and are raising big money for Carl DeMaio in hopes of paving the way for his statewide ascendency) figured out that a straightforward campaign was a loser.  Hence, their present attempt to deceive us.

As Thomas Elias put it in The North County Times:

 To provide a phony veneer of fairness, the newest version [of paycheck deception] bans both unions and corporations from contributing directly to candidates or candidate-controlled campaign committees. And it requires corporations to get yearly employee signatures before using payroll deductions for politics.

 Both those items are meaningless, though, because most union and corporate political spending lately has been through so-called “independent expenditure committees,” for which the U.S. Supreme Court has forbidden all spending limits. In short, corporations and unions can spend as much as they like on politics. But while most corporate spending comes from the firms themselves, and not their employees, the only money unions ever have comes from their members.

 Which makes this version of “payroll protection” as one-sided and biased as its two predecessor initiatives, which failed in 1998 and 2005.

 Michael Hilzik of The Los Angeles Times agrees:

 In this state, we’ve come to expect ballot initiatives sponsored by business interests to be, essentially, frauds. But it’s hard to conceive how one could be more fraudulent than Proposition 32. If there was any doubt left that the initiative process has been totally corrupted by big business and the wealthy, this should put it to rest for all time.

Proposition 32 is nothing but an attack by Republicans and conservatives on unions and their members.

 These journalists are joined not just by unions but by non-partisan groups such as the California League of Women Voters, Common Cause, and Public Citizen in decrying Proposition 32 as bogus campaign reform.  Indeed, by exempting secretive Super PACs, Wall Street hedge funds, real estate investors, insurance companies, and other moneyed interests, the CEO millionaire backers of Proposition 32 have created a wolf in sheep’s clothing in order to ensure their unchecked ability to influence California politics.  It is a naked attempt to enshrine plutocracy at the state level.

 Why You Should Care Even if You’re Not in a Union

What will happen if Proposition 32 passes?  Working people will have no ability to be heard in politics at the local level, advocate for school bonds or ballot propositions that would aid education or other public services at the state level, or participate in politics in any way whatsoever. Think of the endless series of bad ballot measures that would follow, measures that would have lots of corporate money behind them with little or no funded opposition—ballot initiatives to privatize public services, end environmental laws, rig the tax system in favor of the powerful, impose reactionary social polices, etc. etc.

Do you want to live in a “democracy” that is completely ruled by the dollar?  Do you want a state where the rich are the only people with the ability to influence policy at every level?  Welcome to post-32California.

And even if you aren’t in a union but want to be able to elect progressive politicians without a billionaires’ stamp of approval, you should work to stop 32.  At base, this lemon is a clever attempt by the right, whose reactionary policies have made it hard for them to win statewide elections in California fair and square, to go after one of the key funding sources of the Democratic Party.  The bottom line is that the folks at the Lincoln Club of Orange County want to defund the Democrats and totally reshape the political playing field in favor of the interests of the moneyed minority.

Like the Citizens United decision, Proposition 32 is a threat to our democracy.

And if this happens here, in California, it will have a domino effect across the country.  It will be Wisconsin everywhere and progressive politics, without the money and ground troops that labor brings, will be severely crippled into the indefinite future.  Not just labor rights but civil rights, environmental protections, quality, affordable public education and more will be in jeopardy.  Don’t think it can’t happen.

Thus, the choice is clear.  We can work hard to defeat Proposition 32 or we can sit back and watch the right rig the game against most of us—again.  It’s a stark choice and everything is on the line.

 Happy Labor Day, dear readers.

Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “Under the Perfect Sun” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted! You might also consider subscribing to our SDFP Voter Guide 2012 to keep informed on ballot issues facing San Diego voters.


Jim Miller

Jim Miller, a professor at San Diego City College, is the co-author of Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See and Better to Reign in Hell, and author of the novel Drift. His most recent novel on the San Diego free speech fights and the IWW, Flash, is on AK Press.


  1. […] Excerpts from an article by Jim Miller, published on… […]

  2. […] Excerpts from an article by Jim Miller, published on… […]