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Election 2012: State Proposition Guide

Produced by KQED News and The California Report

Proposition 32

Limits Certain Political Donations

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At a Glance

  • Proposition 32 prohibits unions and certain types of corporations from donating directly to political candidates and ballot measure campaigns. Exempts individuals, LLCs, partnerships and real estate trusts.
  • It exempts the largest and fastest-growing type of political spending, known as "independent expenditures." This is the political spending of super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts.
  • It prohibits organizations from using payroll deductions for any kind of political purpose, even if the employee has given permission. This prohibition primarily affects unions, since corporations raise political money through other means.
  • It prohibits government contractors from contributing to elected officials who play a role in awarding their contracts.
  • Budget Impact: The Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the measure would cost $1 million annually for enforcement.

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Proposition 32 would prohibit unions and some kinds of corporations from contributing directly to candidates or campaigns. It would ban government contractors from contributing to elected officials who play a role in awarding their contracts. It would also prohibit using payroll-deducted funds for any political purpose.

What's tricky about Prop. 32 is the fine print.

Restrictions on Fundraising

The measure would specifically restrict unions' method of fundraising for political purposes, since unions are about the only entities that use payroll deductions from their members to raise money for political causes. Corporations tend to make political donations from their own coffers.

This is the third ballot measure in 15 years that businesses have put forth to limit unions' political fundraising.

Independent Expenditures

Most political spending is either a political contribution for a candidate or a campaign, or an independent expenditure. Prop. 32 limits political contributions but not independent expenditures.

An independent expenditure is money spent on behalf of the candidate or a campaign, without being directed by that candidate or campaign. This is the political spending of so-called super PACs and other political organizations, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts.

Who's Spending What?

Businesses currently outspend unions in California politics. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, from 2001 to 2011, top labor unions spent $284 million in California on initiatives, candidates and parties. During that same time, top contributors among business interests spent $700 million. Neither of these figures includes donations to super PACs.

If you include PACs and independent expenditures, businesses nationally had a 15 to 1 fundraising advantage over labor unions in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Arguments For and Against:

Supporters say...

the measure would stop special interest groups from controlling Sacramento.

Two of California's top three billionaire spenders, Jerry Perenchi and Charles Munger, have donated substantially to Prop. 32. Other supporters include the California Republican Party, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association and Democrats for Education Reform.

Opponents say...

the measure unfairly limits unions and would not stop special interest spending, since it does nothing to stem the flood of money to super PACs.

Major opponents of Prop. 32 include the League of Women Voters, the California Democratic Party and most labor unions, including the California School Employees Association, the AFL-CIO and SEIU.