Election 2012

In California, vote for Prop. 32, a much-needed reform

In California, vote for Prop. 32, a much-needed reform
Photo credit: Ann Johansson for The New York Times

It should be obvious that the more special interests spend on politicians the tighter their grasp over our government.  In California, that grasp has become a stranglehold, in which crony capitalists and public employee union bosses now exercise life or death control over the legislative process.

A case in point is the biggest spender in California politics, the California Teachers Association (CTA), which “invested” more than $200 million on initiatives, candidates and politics over the past decade – money deducted directly from teachers’ paychecks without their consent.  What kind of clout does that buy?  Earlier this year, the CTA blocked a bill (SB 1530) that would have permitted school districts to fire a teacher for sexually abusing a child in his or her classroom.  After passing the state Senate on a broad bi-partisan vote, four CTA-backed shills on an Assembly committee quietly killed it.

No surprise, then, that the CTA is also the biggest spender against Proposition 32, the ballot measure to prohibit unions and corporations from giving directly to politicians and from pilfering the paychecks of employees to fund political action committees.

No surprise, either, that these same special interests have now spent nearly $70 million to defeat this much-needed reform of the state’s political system.

Public employee unions use this plunder to elect compliant candidates to the very institutions that negotiate their pay and benefits, giving them control of both sides of the bargaining table while taxpayers are pushed away.  But let’s not leave out corporations, many in search of government monopolies, franchises, grants, subsidies and special tax breaks.  One of the state’s largest utility monopolies, for example, is also one of the most generous corporate players in Sacramento – routinely giving the maximum $3,900 contribution to nearly every member of the Senate and Assembly.

All told, state level candidates received more than $700 million in contributions in this manner.  And it works.  According to an investigation of the by the Mercury News, 40 percent of all the bills introduced in the 2009-10 legislative session were sponsored by special interest lobbyists.  These laws were more than twice as likely to become law as bills not represented by these well-healed groups.

Proposition 32 will end this incestuous relationship between big unions, big corporations and career politicians by:

  • Prohibiting unions and corporations from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate controlled committees;
  • Preventing government contractor contributions to elected officers or officer-controlled committees; and
  • Forbidding unions and corporations from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes.

Unions can still raise all the money they can from their members, with one important change.  They have to ask them first, by getting their written permission to do so.  Under current law, unions can make these deductions without asking, putting members in the awkward and difficult position of having to beg for their money back – often having to endure ostracism in their jobs and endless paperwork delays in the process.  As Jefferson noted long ago, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”  Prop. 32 ends this iniquitous practice.

With this much money and this much political power at stake, union bosses are waging lavish campaign of deceit against Prop. 32 with the very plunder that Prop. 32 would stop.  Their principle argument is that Prop. 32 doesn’t stop corporations from spending money on independent “Super Pacs.”  True enough, but it also doesn’t stop unions from doing the same thing.  The difference is that neither corporations nor unions will be able any longer to give directly to politicians to influence their votes and they’ll have to ask permission of their employees or members before deducting political funds from their paychecks.

For years, California has suffered the paradox of skyrocketing costs for government services accompanied by a declining quality of those services.  This will continue as long as the people of California are relegated to the position of bystanders while crony capitalists and union bosses carve up their hard-earned taxes.  Californians don’t have to be helpless victims in this charade: this year, they can take their government back.

Tom McClintock (R-CA) is the Chairman of the Water and Power Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee, and is a member of the Budget Committee and the Natural Resources Committee.  He is also a member of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands and the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaskan Native Affairs.

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