California's Biggest Fraud on the Ballot

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Here is an example of how the initiative process here in CA has been co-opted by monied and special interests. This is a blatent distortion and millions will be spent to bamboozle the public to vote for this. In CA, the initiative process was started 100 years ago so the people had an avenue to address issues that their legislature wouldn't. The monied interests want their taxes lowered so they can spend more money on frauds like this? It's very long so I will just supply some highlights. Read the whole column if you can.,0,5536069,full.column

"Proposition 32: A fraud to end all frauds

It was Lyndon Johnson who best understood that the key to political empowerment for the disenfranchised was to give them access to the electoral process. That's why he made passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 his top priority.

But it's doubtful he would think too kindly of a measure we might call the Rich Persons and Corporations Empowerment Act of 2012. During this election season, Californians undoubtedly will be hearing about it on TV and radio until their eardrums bleed. That's because it will be on the November ballot as Proposition 32, a wolf in sheep's clothing dressed up as the "Stop Special Interest Money Now Act."

In this state, we've come to expect ballot initiatives sponsored by business interests to be, essentially, frauds. But it's hard to conceive how one could be more fraudulent than Proposition 32. If there was any doubt left that the initiative process has been totally corrupted by big business and the wealthy, this should put it to rest for all time.

Proposition 32 is nothing but an attack by Republicans and conservatives on unions and their members. Two previous attempts by the same gang failed at the ballot box, in 1998 and 2005. What's new about this effort is that it's dressed up as a broad reform aimed at "special interests," and it's even more union-unfriendly than its predecessors.

On the grounds that "special interests have too much power over government," the measure bans direct contributions to California candidates by corporations and labor unions. It prohibits the collection of "political funds" from corporate employees and union members via payroll deduction, even if the employee or member voluntarily approves. (That's more stringent than the previous versions, which merely required that union members give written permission for political expenditures once a year.) Political funds include money spent for or against a candidate or ballot measure or for a party or political action committee, or PAC.

Sounds pretty good so far, doesn't it? "It looks temptingly like reform," says Trudy Schafer, program director for the League of Women Voters of California. "But it's not."

That's because Proposition 32 bristles with enormous loopholes tailor-made for businesses and their wealthy backers. To begin with, it exempts such common business structures as LLCs, partnerships and real estate trusts. If you're a venture investor, land developer or law firm, Proposition 32 doesn't lay a finger on you.

The drafters, who include conservative attorneys Thomas Hiltachk and Michael Capaldi, know full well that payroll deductions are how unions get almost all of their funds, and businesses get almost none of theirs.

Today, no big business needs to mulct its employees for piddling weekly deductions for its PAC, when it can shovel out by the trainload any money it has collected via the sale of goods and services. Some corporations do take PAC contributions from employees by payroll deductions, but it's typically a tiny proportion, mostly concentrated among careerist midlevel executives and above.

"When corporations can just write a check from their general treasury, the idea that this is a meaningful restriction is ridiculous," says Richard L. Hasen, an election and campaign law expert at UC Irvine. The share of corporate political spending coming from employee payroll deductions "has got to be a drop in the bucket, and putting it in there is just a fig leaf."

What about the Proposition 32 campaign's claim that the measure is all about, and only about, reducing the power of "special interests"? In the interest of being fair and objective, we should be very careful about the word we select to describe this assertion. So let's keep things simple: It's a lie.

How can we know? We can start by examining the campaign's contributors. As it turns out, the claim that you need a big-money ballot campaign to wipe out the influence of special interests carries its own contradiction, in the same way a skunk packs its own stench.

Among the very top contributors to the campaign, according to public filings, are A. Jerrold Perenchio ($250,000), Thomas Siebel ($500,000), B. Wayne Hughes ($200,000) and Charles Munger Jr. ($992,000).

Perenchio, a billionaire Hollywood mogul, was the second-largest individual political donor in California from 2001 to 2011, with $16.9 million in contributions mostly to Republican and conservative interests, according to a compilation by the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. He's contributed $2 million to American Crossroads and $500,000 to Restore Our Future.

Siebel is a Silicon Valley billionaire perhaps best known in California political circles for his introduction of Sarah Palin, then the newly minted GOP vice presidential candidate, at a 2008 rally as "the embodiment of pure, unadulterated good," the San Francisco Chronicle reported. In 2010 he donated $250,000 to American Crossroads.

The Kentucky-based Hughes is the patriarch of the Public Storage empire. His donations to American Crossroads: $3.5 million, making him one of its top donors in 2010. He's given nearly $2.3 million to California political entities in the 2001-11 period, exclusively Republican.

Munger is a physicist who was the third-largest individual political contributor in California in 2001-11, with $14.1 million in contributions, mostly to GOP interests. His father, Charles Sr., has long been Warren Buffett's investment partner.

Whatever you might think about these individuals' political viewpoints, some things are crystal-clear: They're the special interests. They're the fount of the cash that, according to the Prop. 32 pitch, constitutes "the most corrupting influence in politics."

And most important of all: They're conveniently exempt from Proposition 32."

Jun. 29, 2012 10:24 am

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