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Of all the words that you'll find in the ballot pamphlet for California voters, the scariest may be this one: "reform." As Californians, we're often forced to pick through a blizzard of propositions that offer the promise of "reform," but deliver something very different. Few ballot measures epitomize this bait-and-switch better than Proposition 32.
Proclaimed by its wealthy backers to offer "campaign finance reform," Prop. 32 is not at all what it seems. The deceptive measure was intentionally crafted to create special exemptions for Wall Street hedge funds, insurance companies and those secretive, wealthy super PACs. At the same time, it makes it illegal for regular working people -- firefighters, teachers, nurses, law enforcement officers -- to pool their resources through voluntary payroll deductions to fight back.
The end result: Billionaires keep spending unlimited amounts of money to write their own set of rules, while regular working people lose any seat at the table.
Why is Prop. 32 not real reform? Let me count the ways.
Prop. 32 exempts the out-of-state super PACs, who raise and spend millions of dollars on campaigns without any accountability. Prop. 32 explicitly exempts Wall Street investment firms, hedge funds, developers and insurance companies -- more than 1,000 business interests exempted, according to the California secretary of state. And it does nothing to stop anonymous donations from shadowy out-of-state front groups.
So who is affected? Everyday working Californians looking for a seat at the table. Prop. 32's central provision bans the use of voluntary payroll deduction for political contributions. It makes a big show of banning them "for corporations and unions," but since corporations just write big checks out of their profits, it only hits one side -- the working person's side.
If you're not a union member, or just don't like unions, you probably think "Hey, no problem." But restricting unions and their workers while doing nothing to stop corporate special interests means that only one kind of political candidate will win: the ones that suck up to billionaires. They'll have free rein to attack basic protections that every worker takes for granted, and there won't be anybody to push back.
By targeting only union members, Prop. 32 unfairly singles out and limits the voices of teachers, nurses and firefighters and takes away the ability to speak out on issues that matter to us all, like cuts to schools, police and fire response times, workplace safety, consumer protections, and homeowner rights.
The people who benefit from Prop. 32 get that -- it is why they're writing big checks to pass it. In the space of about 10 days in late September, roughly $10 million flowed into California to support it, including more than $4 million from a super PAC linked to the infamous Koch brothers. Billionaire businessman Charles Munger -- who spent more than $2 million to qualify Prop. 32 -- has since dropped upward of $23 million into campaigns that support it.
It's no surprise why these wealthy interests are spending so much money. After all, Munger and his supporters specifically drafted the measure to exempt themselves from its key provisions. You heard right: The special interests who are paying to pass Prop. 32 have exempted themselves. Some reform!
The people who have been at the forefront of real political reform aren't fooled by Prop. 32. The League of Women Voters of California, California Common Cause and the California Clean Money Campaign all say no. So do dozens of newspaper editorial boards up and down the state and hundreds of public safety, environmental, seniors, labor and business organizations.
They, like all of us, understand that our political process is in need of reform. But they also know the difference between real reform that levels the playing field and an unbalanced "reform" cooked up by wealthy special interests to benefit themselves.
Proposition 32 is not at all what it seems. It is not reform. It is a cynical, thinly disguised attempt to fool voters into thinking it'll improve Sacramento's mess. Proposition 32 won't fix our broken system. It will just make things a whole lot worse.
Derek Robinson is president of the Kern County Fire Fighters union.