Measure to ban political contributions by payroll deduction qualifies for California ballot

A highly contentious initiative blocking unions from making political contributions via automatic payroll deductions will be on the ballot in November 2012. In what promises to be a turbulent, divisive election year, this proposition will bring out the heavy artillery, as both sides will unquestionably raise and spend millions trying to defeat or pass it.

The proposition would ban public and private unions, as well as corporations, from making payroll deductions for political causes at all levels of government. Direct contributions to candidates would also be disallowed. However, indirect contributions would still be permitted through PACs and independent committees. Also, contractors will not be allowed to make contributions to officials who give them contracts (Why are such contributions allowed now? Giving politicians money after they grant contracts is ethically dubious, at the very least).

Unsurprisingly, the measure was pushed by California Republicans. Wealthy donor Charles Munger Jr. has helped finance it and former Secretary of State George Schultz has endorsed it. It needed 504,760 signatures to qualify. Proponents collected 900,000 signatures and at least 630,000 are valid. So, it soared through. Signature collecting can be expensive (paid workers are often used), and signatures can often be invalid, hence the need to collect many more than needed. Even with that, some propositions fail to qualify because they didn’t get enough signatures. That the measure got so many signatures shows that it resonates with the public and that organizers did a superb job.

Clearly, the intent of the proposition is to stop a major form of campaign contributions to Democratic politicians from unions. Similar measures have lost in previous years. But, this is framed as campaign finance reform for all, and not just against unions. There are certainly loopholes, as indirect contributions can still be made by businesses and unions, but the payroll deduction is the crucial point. Corporations don’t normally do this, while unions do it quite a lot. StopSpecialInterestMoney says such contributions are “inherently coercive” and are made whether the employee wants to make them or not. If so, then this would indeed be unfair and coercive.

Unions of course are mobilizing against this. Some are saying it is a question of free speech. But that’s the same as saying corporations are people and thus can make contributions too. Sorry, but in my view, corporations aren’t people and neither are unions. Neither should claim free speech as a rationale for making political contributions. The recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to make unlimited contributions from anonymous donors also applies to unions, but unions can’t do it with payroll deductions if the ballot measure passes. I believe neither should be allowed to make such contributions.

Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation says the measure is deceptive because it claims to be campaign finance reform but primarily targets funding from unions. This shows how carefully crafted the measure is. It does limit campaign contributions in other areas besides unions, something which will help its chance of passage in these Occupy times with its mistrust of politics in general.

(crossposted from IVN)


  1. A union is just another corporation – not a person. It has no more right to free speech than a corporation does, which is (or should be) none at all.

Comments are closed.