Cash donations

Billed as a campaign finance reform initiative by supporters, Proposition 32 seeks to limit political contributions by unions and corporations in California. Detractors claim the proposition is an assault on labor unions and would all but eliminate union influence in politics. We take up the debate over Prop. 32.

John Logan, associate professor and director of labor studies at San Francisco State University, and senior labor policy specialist at the U.C. Berkeley Labor Center.
ArLyne Diamond, Assembly candidate for the 25th district (which includes parts of Alameda and Santa Clara counties) and founder of Diamond Associates, a management consulting firm

  • Bob Fry

    As a state engineer, I’m voting Yes on this Proposition. I’m not anti-union, but I am against completely ineffective unions that force contributions anyway. When the Democratic Legislature and the unions defend their members like in Wisconsin, then I’ll defend them.

    • Thank you Bob. I am totally infavor of collective bargaining – but not the bully tactics that make union members have to pay into their dues to support issues of politicians they might not want to be supporting. Don’t forget the other piece of the bill, which prevents bribery by contractors

  • Daniel

    Can you please ex0plain this a little more fully to me? Do the employees get to choose if their wages are garnished to support the union? I am against forcing employees to pay into a union they may not support. Shouldn’t the union be asking for contributions and not taking money by force?

  • Chemist150

    That fact that people are forced to join unions to work in certain areas such as teaching, they are forced to pay union dues and those dues are primarily used to support Democrats. Therefore, they do indeed auto deduct dues for the express purpose of supporting a political party and force people who would not otherwise donate nor support the party to pay.

    One word explanation: Extortion.

    Anyone who supports this practice is a thief.

    • Chemist150

      I have to say that where I’m from (not California), I knew teachers that hated the union and hated the fact that they were forced to pay union dues. If they could opt out, why didn’t they?

    • Dave in SF

      Not true! They pay fees to support the contract bargaining teams because non-members benefit from those negotiations in the form of wages, benefits and job protections. Non-members do NOT pay the full dues, only their fair share.

  • alameda freethinker

    it is equally illegal for both rich and poor to sleep in a public park, but the law against that behavior targets the poor. likely it’s clear that prop 32 is a direct attack on unions. how many corporations actually ask their employees for a political contribution through payroll deduction? i’ve worked for 20 companies in the silicon valley, and never heard of that!
    let’s reject prop 32 outright, and next election let’s have a proposition that limits corporations from giving money to any political cause without majority approval of each specific contribution purpose and amount by the shareholders. no, let’s go further, let’s simply make each shareholder of each corporation responsible for liability in the percent of shares owned, with no legal limit on liability. you don’t enjoy limited liability, so why should corporations?
    the corporate form itself is simply a legal way for the super wealthy to avoid the downside of risk, and adam smith’s invisible hand of capitalism never imagined such a distortion! time to end this form, then we can talk about ending the fed, and passing a constitutional ammendment to balance the federal budget.

  • Chemist150

    In my district, there are 2 Democrats on the ticket and zero republicans, zero, independents, zero libertarians. I have a choice between 2 democrats that do no represent me. I’m no happy.
    Who’s dominating the politics here? If it corporations, then they own the Democrat party.

    • ChameleonSkin

      you can thank proposition 14 for that – in this case, monetary influence is not the culprit. I’m guessing you live in a heavily democratic district. Prop 14 made it so that the top two vote getters from the primary advance rather than the top members of each party. I’m still not sure how I feel about that particular measure – and I can understand why it upsets you – but in this particular case the rule changes for the primary system are to blame.

  • John

    Corporations don’t get the money they spend on politics from dues deductions from employee’s, but rather their general funds. Labor is able to pool their money through deductions from their paycheck. Deductions that they volunteer to give and aren’t part of the normal Union dues. The union also spends it’s money by a group of employee’s who decide who to support and where to spend the money; unlike corporations.

  • jodaveki

    It’s disingenuous to make 32 an issue about who is “forced” to make contributions when the real issue is about the fact that money increases the amount of speech a person may access. In the political process, no one’s unit of speech should be greater than another’s.

  • Ron

    Are there Citizen’s United implications for this Proposal? If corporations are people, is the union a person too?

  • Hilary

    No one is forced to join a union to work – there is case law that allows non members in any benefit from the representation unions.provide to all employees. And pay check deduction for political conributions is complete voluntary. Unlike the.corporate contributions which are made from profits when food gas cigarettes and everything else.

    • Chemist150

      Is this California specific. I remember my teacher being upset that they were forced to pay union dues. “forced” was the word used, in front of the class.
      The question is about coercion. If hired, they’re given a packet of paper work (tax form, union form, etc.) and are told to complete the forms and turn them in before working. If there is a right to refuse, the first page should clearly state that this is OPTIONAL and only needs to be filled out if they wish to join.
      If that is not the case, it’s still serpent like to say the least.

      • Hilary

        I don’t know when you were in school (*wink*) so im not sure if the Hudson v
        CTA decision or Beck v. CWA hsd been decided. But those cases allowed workers to opt out of paying for the “ideological” activities of unions. They still have to pay the bargaining unit costs to be represented in.contract.negotiations. but as non union
        members are always complaining about union negotiators get a better deal than individuals negotiating on behalf of themselves.

    • MattCA12

      Which is why you are free to buy a product somewhere else if you don’t like the company’s politics. And there may in indeed be case law to allow non-union workers to “peacefully co-exist” with their unionized co-workers, but have you ever tried to climb the “corporate” ladder at a factory if you aren’t a union member? Good luck with that. I’d love to ask the non-unionized teachers at our local middle school how they feel working in a union environment, but I can’t find a single one.

  • Mike

    The amount of mis-information propagated by both guests is staggering. As just one example, Mr. Logan is either woefully misinformed or purposefully lying: Since 2000, businesses have spent over $800 million *just on contributions to candidates* (see Most of this spending would be prohibited by prop 32. True, they have also donated a *billion* dollars to ballot measures, to which unions have given $300 million.

    This is why controversial issues require an impartial guest to bring some truth to the matter, and not just the two partisan sides. KQED often does take this route, but it seems for this momentous proposition it was thought unnecessary.

    We at will have a guide to some of the November propositions (including 32) next week, please visit and get informed!

    • ChameleonSkin

      Mike: perhaps you could clarify the above, because I don’t understand the line of reasoning.

      From my understanding, the way that this bill treats corporations and unions differently is in the source of the funds. Corporate funds stem from profits; union funds stem from dues. So while the bill technically bars either entity from collecting money directly from their members for political spending, in practice this would only effect unions; I have worked in corporations my whole life and not once have I had my wages garnished for the purpose of political spending.

      Based on the above, this gives a corporation a war chest of as many dollars as they wish to spend, while leaving unions with approximately zero. So while I understand that the text of the bill also prohibits both corporations and unions from direct spending on candidates or parties, it does NOT prevent them from spending on superPACs and ballot initiatives.

      If you put both of those points together, it seems to me that the end result of the bill is that corporations can spend an unlimited amount of profits on donations to SuperPACs and ballot initiatives, while unions will be left with the *ability* to give money to both of those but with no *money* to do so. In practical terms, then, this seems to clearly tilt the favor towards corporate influence in politics.

  • Dave in SF

    Saying one is “forced” to pay union dues is inaccurate at best.

    All employees benefit from the labor contracts negotiated by union bargaining team efforts, so non-union employees are often required to pay a fee to cover those costs only — the “fair share” fees are less than what union members pay.

    Since non-union folks get the same wages, benefits and job protections as union members who pay the full amount, non-members should help pay for that service.

  • MattCA12

    This is an anti-union bill. And about time. Public sector unions are nothing more than legalized extortionists, and Logan’s assertion that one can be a public sector employee, a non-union member, and expect career advancement is the height of disingenuousness. Public sector unions are strangling state government and they punch way, way above their weight class politically. Californians are sick of it, and many I know are doing all they can to see this proposition pass.

    • ChameleonSkin

      you are welcome to that opinion, but keep in mind that two measures that *specifically* targeted union dues have been voted down in the last 15 years. The authors of this proposition needed to deceptively code the language to make the bill seem even-handed in reducing influence by both unions and corporations when that is laughably false.

      I would be in support of a bill that equally removes monetary influence by both unions AND corporations, but this bill does not do that.

      • MattCA12

        Why is it laughably false? Have you read it? I did read the proposed language for the bill (admittedly from Wiki), and it seems straightforward enough for me. No payroll deductions, whether a company employee or a union member.

        • ChameleonSkin

          Yes, I have. See my reply to Mike below for a more complete response, but in essence the discrepancy stems from the fact that corporations do not gather campaign contribution money from their employees, but unions do gather campaign contribution money from their members.

          If the text of the bill were to additionally prohibit both corporations and unions from contributing to PACs and ballot initiatives in addition to directly financing candidates and parties, I’d be the first in line to vote for it. As written, however, it allows corporations to continue spending money on those entities while in practice preventing unions from doing so (I say “in practice” because while they are technically still allowed to do so, the bill leaves them with no money to do this).

          • MattCA12

            No it doesn’t. All you are saying is that you believe unions are too disorganized/dumb/lazy/disinterested to donate money for their own self-improvement, so you have to set up a mechanism to automatically deduct money from their pay. Seems extremely condescending to me.
            And I think Citizens United has already determined that the additional text you would insert into the proposition would not pass constitutional muster. I’m happy to agree with you that there is far, far too much money in politics. But I see Proposition 32 as helping to end that.
            People who support unions nowadays fail to realize they have outlived their original purpose, which was to even the playing field between management and labor. The only unions left now are in the public sector, and the management? The taxpayers.

          • ChameleonSkin

            As I said above, you are welcome to that opinion. My beef with the bill has to do with the way it pretends to be even-handed when the practical outcome is that it is not. In *practical* terms, it skews financing in favor of corporations; I really don’t see a way to argue against that. I understand that you really don’t like unions, and if there were a bill that didn’t pretend to be even-handed in its actual outcome but instead was clear that its intent was to keep unions from contributing to politics, then we could have an honest debate about its merits on that alone. I would vote against it; you would almost certainly vote for it (or at least that is my assumption based on your statements above).

            It sounds like what we would both ultimately like is a bill that equally removes the influence of money in politics by both corporations and by unions, but in my assessment this bill simply isn’t it.

          • MattCA12

            We could, and perhaps if we didn’t have the Citizens Utd case hanging around our necks we could advance as a democracy the way we would all like. We do indeed disagree about unions, but that’s ok. As you said earlier, it appears that the people of CA want strong public sector unions, despite having no labor-economic rationale for them.

        • It is straightforwar – and equitable for bothcorporations and unions – no forced contributions. If they don’t force it, no problem

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