California's Prop 32 has union leaders and supporters across the country shaking in their work boots.
If passed, Prop 32 would severely limit the ability of California organized labor to raise and contribute political money, which in turn has the recipients of that money -- primarily Democratic candidates -- equally nervous. And if the measure can pass in California, it can surely pass elsewhere, said Larry Gerston, professor of political science at San Jose State University.
"If this ballot prop can pass in a state that is very pro-labor, you can only imagine how that opens the flood gates in states where labor doesn’t have the same hold," Gerston told The Huffington Post.
The "Yes on 32" website says the proposition is a campaign finance measure that "addresses the special interests' control of government and returns power to voters by limiting both corporate and union political giving." Prop 32 would ban unions, corporations and entities under government contract from giving direct contributions to candidates or their committees.
In response, the "No on 32" website argues that the measure does not take money out of politics because it does not curtail spending through super PACs and independent expenditure committees.
Opponents of the measure have also pointed out that it weakens the influence of unions in politics while leaving the influence of business intact. That's because the political contribution ban would not apply to employers that are not technically corporations, including LLCs and LLPs (medium-sized and large businesses), REITs (real estate investment trusts) and regulated investment trusts (including hedge funds), The Vallejo Times Herald reports.
Prop 32 would also ban unions and corporations from deducting from employees' payrolls for political spending. Because unions get the majority of their money from payroll deductions, this would significantly reduce the power they currently enjoy in helping Democratic political candidates get into or remain in office. But it would not affect corporations, which get their political money from corporate resources and individual donations.
"It would virtually dry up the ability of organized labor to collect funds for various campaigns," Gerston said to HuffPost. "It’s a game-changer if it passes. There's no question about that," he added.
The amount of money being spent both for and against Prop 32 reflects how high the stakes are. Last month, an Iowa-based conservative nonprofit with ties to the Koch Brothers channeled $4 million towards the "Yes on 32" campaign, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Even still, the "No on 32" campaign, with $41.3 million in collections from labor unions and politicians, has raised considerably more than the $9 million raised by "Yes on 32." The largest contributor so far to the "No on Prop 32" campaign is the California Teachers Association, which gave over $16.5 million to the cause. Both sides have spent money on television and radio advertisements, such as the "Yes on 32" ad above, which is captioned by an opponent of Prop 32, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.
Musicians Crosby, Stills and Nash and Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello will be performing an Oct. 3 concert at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles to raise even more money for "No on 32."
It might seem that the measure doesn’t stand a chance given all the money being funneled against it and given the fact that Californian voters are predominantly Democratic. However, poll results predict a close vote. The most recent poll, by USC, found that 44 percent of Californians oppose Prop 32, and 36 percent support it.
The close race could be the result of the poor reputation of certain unions. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association has been criticized for being more concerned with pay and benefits than with public safety. And teachers' unions have been criticized for prioritizing the protection of teacher tenure and seniority over the education of students.
While the San Francisco Chronicle has opposed Prop 32, an editorial validated some of these union criticisms, particularly as they play into politics: "There is no question that organized labor has a powerful grip on the State Capitol, and that works against the public’s interest on issues such as education reform, government efficiency and pension reform."
Still, "No on 32" says that the proposition is a campaign finance Trojan horse that strengthens the influence of business interests by weakening the influence of unions.
With more money being spent for and against Prop 32 than any other measure on California's ballot, the debate around the measure constitutes a tough, expensive fight. And if Prop 32 passes, its supporters will likely try to replicate the measure in other states.
"If it passes, it will be a political earthquake," Gerston said.