The Next Union Battle in California: Stopping Payroll Deductions for Political Spending


Apparently we're supposed to hold our applause.

While San Diego and San Jose continue to fight their local unions to put a lid on out-of-control pension expenses following the June election, union forces have already begun campaigning against a November ballot initiative.

The ads have started popping up on the web already, declaring "Finally, billionaire businessmen will run California." Don't start cheering, though. In the face of California's huge public-spending driven deficit, this is supposed to be a warning.

The ballot initiative, currently awkwardly titled the "Stop Special Interest Money Act," has two aims. First, it will prohibit direct donations to California political candidates from unions and corporations. This, of course, will have absolutely no bearing on independent expenditures on behalf of candidates.

Second, it would also prohibit deducting money directly from paychecks and funneling that money to political activism. This part of the initiative has obviously drawn the wrath of California's public sector unions. The Sacramento Bee examined the efforts in the wake of the failed recall of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the passage of pension reform proposals in San Diego and San Jose:

It promises to gut the power of labor unions because they raise nearly all of their money for political and other purposes via payroll-deducted dues from their members' paychecks.

Corporations, by contrast, raise the bulk of their campaign money from donations given by top executives and drawn from company treasuries.

The opponents (Alliance for a Better California 2012) have worked up a sinister but utterly vague three-minute video that attempts to warn voters against the initiative with a montage of people saying "super-PAC" and invoking every private sector juggernaut (Wall Street! Real Estate Developers! Insurance Companies!) that has ever been the villain in a movie with a down-on-his-luck blue collar hero (preferably played by Bruce Willis or Denzel Washington). And, of course, it refers to public employees like teachers and firefighters as heroes who will be silenced from speaking their minds if the initiative passes. It does not mention that union members will still be able to voluntarily donate to political causes and that the unions have the same access to super-PACs that those evil corporations do (like Alliance for a Better California 2012, which is getting its funding from three different PACs for this campaign). They attempt to retitle the initiative as the "Special Exemptions Act," which is weird and vague and no doubt a consultant told them voters don't like special exemptions but failed to tell them they should probably put "corporate" in there, too.

So Californians can enjoy spending the summer watching public unions continue to fight any attempt to make state and municipal budgets resemble anything realistic while at the same time complaining about corporations and super-PACs taking over the state.