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Prop 32 would change organized labor’s influence on California’s political process

What is the influence of union money on political campaigns?
What is the influence of union money on political campaigns?
Tony Pierce/KPCC

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This November, California voters face another choice that would reform campaign finance in the bill Proposition 32 — the "Paycheck Protection" Initiative.

Prop 32 would make it illegal for unions to use payroll-deducted funds for political contributions as well as tighten restrictions on monies appropriated to campaigns and committees by unions. In addition, the measure would make it illegal for government contractors to contribute to elected officials who have a hand in awarding them a contract, at least while that contract is under consideration or is in effect.

Californians critical of the power of unions feel that the bill would return power and influence to voters. President of Net Check Investigations Jonathan Kraut said under current legislation, individuals don't know where their contributions get used.

"The payroll deduction is automatic; that money is going wherever the corporation or union decides it goes. [Prop 32] allows an individual to decide where that money should go to some extent, and also, doesn't preclude them from making an individual contribution," he said. "This takes the power away from the people who run the corporations and the people who run the unions, who use other peoples' money."

Those opposed to Prop 32 cite a number of loopholes that exempt LLCs, partnerships and real estate trusts. Those omissions, they say, would make the bill a boon for special interests.

"Under Prop 32, a corporation CEO, its board members, its executives, all could still make contributions to candidates," said Grant Davis-Denny, board member of California Common Cause. "Prop 32 exempts a number of forms of businesses that you would traditionally think of as corporations. The notion that this would somehow reduce the influence in corporations in Sacramento, I think, is a sham."

Denny added that the proposition interferes with employee's personal lives by prohibiting payroll deductions.

"Payroll deductions have long been a convenient way for people to pool their money to participate in the political process. Just like it's a convenient way to have money deducted to support our healthcare programs or retirement benefits," he said.

Proponents of Prop 32 include former California state senator Gloria Romero, former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan and the California Republican Party, while The California Labor Federation, the California League of Women Voters and the California Democratic Party are campaigning in opposition.

Prop Breakdown:

Official Title — Political Contributions by Payroll Deduction. Contributions to Candidates. Initiative Statute.

  • Ban both corporate and labor union contributions to candidates

  • Prohibit government contractors from contributing money to government officials who award them contracts

  • Prohibit corporations and labor unions from collecting political funds from employees and union members using the inherently coercive means of payroll deduction

  • Make all employee political contributions by any other means strictly voluntary
  • Weigh In:

    What is the influence of union money on political campaigns? What are your concerns about campaign finance spending? How would Prop 32 make the election process more transparent?


    Jonathan Kraut, president of Net Check Investigations, an employment screening and private investigation firm; president of the Santa Clarita Interfaith Council

    Grant Davis-Denny, board member of California Common Cause, an organization dedicated to improving government accountability; partner at Munger, Tolles (TOLLS) & Olson