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Election 2012: Proposition 32

on November 1, 2012

Richmond union representatives are speaking out against Proposition 32, a state ballot measure that seeks to eliminate corporate and union influence in local as well as statewide elections.

The groups say the measure disadvantages organized labor’s ability to advocate for nursing care in hospitals, small class sizes and strong infrastructure. The Yes on 32 campaign says the measure would rid California of special interest influences.

“If we don’t defeat this, we won’t be able to advocate and make contributions to our school boards where decisions are made around policies,” said Diane Brown, president of United Teachers of Richmond. “It would limit our ability to make decisions around our students’ education.”

United Teachers of Richmond, which represents 1,400 teachers, librarians, school nurses and speech pathologists, uses its political action committee to support candidates in school board elections and promote a parcel tax and bond that could finance the rebuilding and upgrading of Richmond schools, Brown said.

If passed, Prop 32 would change electioneering in the state in three ways:

  • ban both corporations and labor unions from contributing to political candidates
  • ban payroll deductions by unions and corporations, if any, for political purposes
  • prevent contractors from donating to the politicians that vote on their contracts

The Yes on 32 campaign argues the measure would be an airtight law that would prevent corporations and unions from unduly influencing California politicians by prohibiting the organizations from giving to directly candidates or their campaign committees. But nothing would stop labor or corporations from independently campaigning for or against a candidate – as long as payroll deductions aren’t used.

Those independent expenditures have already played a role in Richmond politics: the Moving Forward committee, which is backed with $1.5 million from Chevron and the city’s police and fire associations does not give money directly to a candidate or candidate committee. Instead it has spent money on mailers and advertising supporting City Council candidates Nat Bates, Bea Roberson and Gary Bell and opposing candidates Marilyn Langlois and Eduardo Martinez.

Prop 32 “is deceptive because corporations spend much more money than we could ever spend in terms of political contributions,” Brown said. “They have unlimited amounts of money … we don’t have unlimited amounts of money. They don’t have employees that contribute toward a PAC because they don’t need that. They have a few SuperPACs.”

In one of the most cash-saturated elections in recent memory, union groups have donated almost $50,000 to Richmond City Council candidates, according to the most recent campaign filings. Corporate donations to candidates are less than half that figure.

All of that funding could vanish under Prop 32.

School Board candidate Robert Studdiford, who has received more than $37,000 in direct contributions from labor unions and corporations, said union support is critical to educating voters. If Prop 32 passes, Studdiford said he believes only wealthy individuals or corporations would be able to fund candidates, making it difficult for candidates like him, a “small Democrat,” to get their message out.

“In politics, you have to be able to explain your position to people, otherwise why would they ever vote for you? If you limit one side’s ability to get out their message … it really limits the whole system.”

Unions, Studdiford said, help candidates like him educate the tens of thousands of voters in the area.

“Do you think in a school board race, mom and dad are going to give you the money to do it?” he asked, adding that parents with children have many other expenses.

Labor groups argue that a ban on payroll deductions going toward political purposes would limit their voices as advocates for working people during elections.

Few corporations use payroll deductions, but labor groups commonly put dues and other fees toward collective bargaining and, sometimes, political campaigns.

If union members don’t want to give money to political causes, they can opt out, said Julio Arroyo, a representative of the Public Employees Union Local 1, based in Martinez. Prop 32 would require annual written permission for organizations to use employee money for political purposes.

“It puts more hurdles for working people to have a voice in politics,” he said. “It really goes to show how unfair it is written. It’s written just to cripple working people’s voice in politics.”

PEU, which represents school district employees in Richmond, among other public employees in Contra Costa County, has contributed $60,000 to the No on 32 campaign.

Proponents of Prop 32 argue the opposite: the measure empowers employees.

“By eliminating payroll deduction for both corporations and unions, and requiring consent, it gives all employees and union members the power to choose whether they want to spend their own money for political purposes,” states to a Yes on 32 fact sheet.

[Editor’s note: this story has been corrected from a previous version that incorrectly stated the Moving Forward committee has opposed Measure N. The committee has not taken a position.]

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