General election season seems to bring out at least one or two initiatives that are meant to only benefit the select few who can afford the millions to hire the signature gatherers put it on the ballot. They usually have names that cover up what they are really about and are designed to disturb the balance between those interest and the public, usually in favor of the funding interests. This year’s example is Proposition 32, known as the “Special Exemptions Act.”
Proposition 32 claims to be a campaign finance initiative that would also stop certain groups from deducting fees from employees or members to pay for political activities, but it is nothing of the sort. It actually carves out huge exemptions the people who wrote the measure such as large out of state corporations, and SuperPACs (neither of which fund activities through deductions anyway) while limiting the ability of groups that are funded by working people and the public such as labor unions and public interest organizations to raise money from their members.
Labor has always been an importan counterweight to large corporate interests, pushing for labor safety laws and other public protections. Reducing the ability of Labor to compete in the public square threatens the possibility of these protections being rolled back.
This means that small businesses, unions, community organizations and environmental organizations that reflect the values of much of the Jewish community will have less of a voice, making it harder for them to support candidates that support public education, fair wages, funding for the poor and protecting the environment. Trying to use the political system to silence the voice of community stakeholders could have dangerous consequences on government policy. That is why the California League of Women Voters and Common Cause both oppose Proposition 32
Meanwhile, those who run large corporations will have more of a voice since they will have use of corporate funds for California political campaigns without having to get any shareholder approvals and almost no limitations on spending those funds to support candidates who support their agenda as long as the contributions are not direct (Both business and Labor depend heavily on independent expenditure campaigns to support their candidates since direct contributions are already limited to $3,900-$10,000 per cycle, depending on the office sought).
Proposition 32 is funded by the Koch Brothers from Wichita, Kansas (they recently put $4 million Republican financier Charles Munger, Jr. and Sarah Palin supporter Tom Siebel, amongst others. Another big funder is William Bloomfield, Jr. a Republican-turned-Independent who is challenging Congressman Henry Waxman, one of our strongest voices for Israel.
Our community has a long history of being active for social justice. Rabbi Abraham Heschel marched with Dr. Martin Luther King. Lionel Freeman was the first grower to sign with the United Farm Workers. The Jewish immigrant women who died in the Triangle Shirt Factory Fire gave birth to the modern labor movement.
Indeed, it is one of the oldest tenets of Jewish law that products that are the result of exploitation of others are not considered Kosher and two of our most important pillars of our religion are learning (Torah) and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). Proposition 32 takes the power out of the hands of those who seek to stand up for the downtrodden and increases the ability of those who already have influence to have more influence.
All around the country, we’ve seen the result of the Citizen’s United Case, allowing the wealthiest to spend unlimited funds on campaigns, with out of state interests spending millions to support candidates that are more beholden to those interests than the citizens they are supposed to be elected to represent. I’m not saying that Labor is perfect, but if we try only to silence one side, particularly one associated with protecting the downtrodden and the middle class, we disturb a balance that has for the most part been for the benefit of working people, especially those that would not otherwise have a voice and many of which would live without protections that we take for granted today.
California is not perfect either, but we’ve managed to keep our campaign spending limits in place so that money alone will not determine the outcome of political contests. In many of the highest profile races in California, the biggest spender did not even make the runoff. If Proposition 32 passes, we will end up like those other states and the accountability will be harder, not easier to get in our already dysfunctional government.