All posts by Leighton Woodhouse

Twenty-Five Ideas for Mayor Garcetti

The following article, written by Occidental College Professor Peter Dreier, is part of a series called Next L.A. from Frying Pan News:

Eric Garcetti has enormous potential to be one of L.A.’s great mayors. He is young (just 42), full of energy, experienced in politics and government, passionate about L.A., brimming with policy ideas, compassionate toward the disadvantaged and a great communicator and explainer. I saw many of these traits up-close when I co-taught a course with him at Occidental College in 2000, and have watched him blossom as he joined the City Council and served as its president.

Now he faces the daunting challenges of running America’s second-biggest, and most diverse, city.

No mayor can succeed unless he or she attends to the routine civic housekeeping tasks that residents expect from municipal governments – fix the potholes, keep traffic flowing, maintain public safety, keep the parks and playgrounds clean and in good repair.

But Garcetti didn’t run for mayor just to be a caretaker. He promised more. He can build on some of the successes of his predecessor but also stake out new directions.

Garcetti inherits a city where the divide between the rich and everyone else is widening. It has more millionaires than any other city but is also the nation’s capital of the working poor. Equally important, the condition of the city’s middle class is precarious as the prices of basic things like housing, health care, food and gas increase faster than incomes.

Despite several years of declining housing prices, the city still has a huge shortage of homes that most L.A. workers and residents can afford. This undermines the city’s business climate. L.A. is a city of renters (over 60% of the population) and most of them are paying more than they can afford just to keep a roof over their heads. If families are paying half or even two-thirds of their incomes in rent, as many are, they have little left to spend at neighborhood businesses and for other basic necessities. And they are constantly at risk of losing their homes. So, not surprisingly, L.A. is the nation’s homelessness capital.

Moreover, the nation’s epidemic of foreclosed and “underwater” homes (where the mortgage exceeds the value of the home) has damaged Los Angeles in several ways.  Even if home prices rise, as they are doing now, many families are hurting, victims of banks that engaged in risky, reckless predatory lending.  But these banks have not been held accountable for bursting the housing bubble, which led to plummeting home prices and a huge loss in property tax revenues. This – and not the pay and pensions for municipal employees – is the major cause of the city’s fiscal problems.

Los Angeles outgrew its suburban roots years ago when the freeways became parking lots. Now Los Angeles needs to grow up around transit stops. Making public transit a real possibility for people trapped in their cars means both building up Los Angeles’ bus and rail system and building up the areas within walking distance of that system.

In recent years, traffic flows have improved, and new rapid bus routes are in place. The city is now in the early stages of a large-scale expansion of public transportation, which will be the largest land-use change in the city since the build-out of the freeway system. Garcetti’s job will be to help manage land-use policies around that expansion so that they create livable, walkable neighborhoods and maximize use of the transit system, thereby reducing traffic congestion, pollution and harmful gas emissions. Such goals require that working families and core transit riders be able to live around the transit stops and do not get displaced or shut out of those areas by rising rents and home prices.

The success of Measure R in 2008, the “30-10” plan to accelerate implementation of our transit revolution and the 66 percent “yes” vote on Measure J in 2012 (just short of the two-third needed for passage) demonstrate that Los Angeles voters are ready to invest in a transportation transformation. Garcetti should build on this voter trust – and on the partnership between elected officials and labor, business, environmental and community groups – to expand our transit system into one that is robust, environmentally sustainable and financially sound, and that contributes to economic prosperity.

No mayor of a city of more than 4 million people – balkanized by a City Council comprised of 15 powerful fiefdoms and a separate school board – can please everyone. As a member of the City Council, Garcetti had a mostly good relationship with L.A.’s business community, labor unions and neighborhood groups. As mayor, he will be called upon to make some tough choices about raising revenues, spending money and setting rules.

Traditionally, city officials have allowed private investors and developers to dictate the terms of economic development and growth. Business lobbyists consistently warn that efforts to raise wages, improve the environment and public health, and require corporations to be more socially responsible will scare away private capital, increase unemployment and undermine a city’s tax base. Typically, they are bluffing – or, more bluntly, lying. In the 1990s, for example, the L.A. Chamber of Commerce and the Central City Association warned that passing a “living wage” law would bankrupt the city and kill jobs. They were crying wolf. The city’s living wage law has been so successful that it has been expanded several times.

The lesson here is that Los Angeles can and should promote a progressive “growth with equity” policy agenda that balances private profit and public interest.

One of Garcetti’s key tasks is to educate L.A. residents about what city government can and can’t do. No city on its own has the all the resources or legal authority needed to address the myriad of problems – poverty, homelessness, crime and underfunded schools,  traffic congestion and pollution, accelerating foreclosures and abandoned homes, crumbling infrastructure, widening wage inequality,  and escalating health care and food costs – it must confront.  It needs to forge partnerships with county, state and federal officials to adequately address these issues.

At the same time, cities have much more capacity to bring about change than most people realize. They have lots of levers – zoning, regulations, subsidies, tax breaks – to shape economic, physical and environmental conditions.

Another one of Garcetti’s most important tasks will be to persuade business groups that a “healthy business climate” is one where economic prosperity is widely shared by working families. This requires business leaders to have a more enlightened view of their responsibility to the broader community.

Garcetti’s supporters will need to have patience. He and the City Council must reach some consensus on the top priorities for the first year, and then consider what can be accomplished in subsequent years. Inevitably, unanticipated events and crises will intervene, but it is important to have a clear roadmap of where he wants to go. This is a time that requires bold initiatives and decisive action.

Here are 25 recommendations to consider:

Good Green Jobs and a Clean Environment

1) Support the full implementation of  the newly adopted Don’t Waste LA plan to promote citywide recycling by business and apartment owners, improve working conditions for garbage and recycling workers, and improve public health by eliminating polluting sanitation trucks. Getting the city to zero waste could also create thousands of living wage jobs.

2) Expand the Department of Water and Power’s goal of reducing energy consumption from 10% to 15% by 2020. That’s like taking more than 50,000 cars off the road. It now gets 40% of its energy from coal-fired plants that pollute our air and contribute to climate change. The DWP has pledged to eliminate coal from its energy mix by 2025 and replace it with cleaner energy sources, including renewable power like solar and wind. Energy efficiency should be part of the new energy mix, as it is the cheapest alternative to dirty energy sources, keeps customer bills low, creates local jobs and helps L.A. adapt to climate change by making homes and businesses more comfortable. The new mayor and City Council should push the DWP to expand programs and help tens of thousands of small businesses, schools and struggling families reduce energy and  water consumption by installing energy-efficient lighting, faucet aerators, attic insulation and the like. This not only greens our neighborhoods. If done right, it can provide middle-class union jobs for L.A.’s unemployed who are being trained to retrofit buildings.

3) Use the city’s land use powers to encourage clean manufacturing jobs centered in green industrial parks and to promote new grocery stores in underserved “food deserts” where residents lack access to affordable and health food.

4) Continue greening the ports and the regional goods movement system – an enormous resource that provides hundreds of thousands of jobs and can do so with clean technology. There are plans for clean freight. We need to create an investment program to build it. Garcetti should support the ongoing efforts to improve the brutal conditions faced by the Port’s 10,000 truck drivers, most of whom are misclassified as independent contractors.

5)  Push for final passage of the city’s ban on plastic bags, which pollute our streets, parks and beaches and cost a small fortune in tax dollars to clean up.

Living Wage Employment

6) Support a $15 living wage for the city’s hotel workers.  Tourism is one of L.A.’s biggest industries, occupancy rates are very high and hotels are making big profits. Even so, many of them pay poverty-level wages. Moreover, hotels can’t threaten to move to Arizona, Mexico or Asia. The wage boost would increase workers’ pay by $71 million, most of which would be spent in the local economy and create more jobs.

7) Create a task force to consider adopting a citywide minimum wage for all workers, like the ones in San Francisco and several other cities.

8.) Continue and expand L.A.’s pioneering workforce investment and job training programs, including the path-breaking Construction Careers model, to provide young people with the skills they need to secure good jobs. Build the partnership with the community college system as a key link in the job training system.

9) Take a strong stand against Walmart’s efforts to bring its low-wage jobs to Los Angeles. The retail giant’s attempts to open grocery stores in Chinatown and elsewhere threaten the vitality of the city’s unionized supermarket chains, one of the last remaining sources of decent blue-collar jobs.

Affordable Housing and Economic Development

10) Champion, protect and increase the supply of affordable housing, especially in neighborhoods with strong transit service. Increase density and reduce parking requirements around transit stops, but only once there is a clear way to ensure that existing affordable homes are protected and new ones are built. Start to “land bank” property near transit stations to ensure there is land priced reasonably enough to make affordable housing feasible in the “hot” transit-adjacent market. Require that private developers who take advantage of increased density or reduced parking around transit stations include more affordable homes in the development than they tear down or convert.

11) Enact a desperately needed housing demolition/conversion ordinance to protect rent-regulated units from demolition and condo conversion, particularly as the market heats up and developers trigger another wave of speculation and gentrification. This is particularly important in order to protect affordable rental housing near transit stations.

12) Help break the logjam on an inclusionary mixed-income housing ordinance by advocating for state legislation to give cities the clear authority to adopt inclusionary housing.

13) Champion SB1, the Sustainable Communities bill sponsored by Senator Darrell Steinberg, which would give cities new tools to create revitalize neighborhoods with affordable housing and good jobs without triggering gentrification and displacement. He can help build a coalition of labor, business, environmentalists and community activists to support the legislation and lead the way in inventing a new generation of bottom-up community development.  At the same time, the mayor should work with local housing advocates to create a permanent funding source for affordable housing in the city and county. To make sure this is a top priority, he should appoint a Deputy Mayor to coordinate the many city agencies involved in housing.

14) Make a firm commitment to oppose and stop any effort to weaken or eliminate rent control or housing code enforcement. In a city where more than half of all residents live in rental housing, the administration needs to quickly investigate complaints of rent-control violations and ensure strict landlord compliance.  This will require much better outreach to tenants so they know their rights.

Public Transportation

15) Become a national leader in advocating for a federal transportation policy that turns transit investments into a win-win for cities across the country. L.A. has created the model, with the adoption of the Construction Careers policy and the U.S. Employment Plan, to make sure that public funds used to purchase buses and trains create good jobs for those who need them most. By working with business, labor, environmentalists and other transit advocates, along with the new Secretary of Transportation and L.A.’s Congressional delegation, Garcetti can urge Congress to put more resources into the America Fast Forward program, which will improve public transit, create good jobs and improve the environment in cities around the country, and provide LA Metro with the financing needed to build the 30-year transit program in 10 years.

16) Help L.A. dream big again, as it did in 2008, and begin planning what we could accomplish with another countywide ballot measure in 2016 to fund completion of the transit system. This includes extending the Crenshaw Line to Wilshire Boulevard and connecting it with a new line from Hollywood and Highland, forming a continuous system from North Hollywood to LAX. It also includes a light rail connection from the San Fernando Valley to LAX, extending the Foothill Gold Line to San Bernardino County and on to Ontario Airport, and extending the Eastside Gold Line to both Whittier and El Monte.  In addition, it would complete the Greenline/Crenshaw connection to LAX and extend the Green Line to Torrance, finalize the West Santa Ana Line from downtown L.A. to Cerritos, connect the San Fernando Valley from Burbank Airport to the San Gabriel Valley and finish the “Subway to the Sea” along Wilshire Boulevard.

17) Collaborate with LA Metro to build out the new strategic plan that’s underway for first mile/last mile bicycle, pedestrian and shuttle improvements.

Budgets, Taxes and Finance

18) In terms of the city budget, raise revenues by closing loopholes like cracking down on city parking lot owners that skim money from the city’s parking tax. Don’t eliminate the business tax. And don’t blame municipal employees for the city’s budget woes.

19) Review and renegotiate the city’s financing deals with Wall Street banks. During the past decade, the city (including the Port of Los Angeles and LAX) got swindled by banks just like many homeowners did. Banks gouged the city with predatory fees and interest rates, increasing the city’s debt load. Debt service and finance costs together now constitute a huge drain on the city’s budget. Last year, for example, the city paid $560 million, or 8.4% of its expenditures, to service its debt. The city should make the banks renegotiate these deals on better terms and thus save money that is now being siphoned off by Wall Street, whose reckless practices crashed the nation’s (and L.A.’s) economy in the first place.

20) Help build a statewide coalition to champion a California constitutional amendment that lowers the local voter threshold to 55% and restores democracy to the voting process. Why should every “no” vote count twice as much as a “yes” vote? Reducing the local voter threshold will enable voters to step up and provide local governments, and school districts, with the revenue that’s needed to make government work for everyone.

21) Work with L.A. County, the United Way and employers to guarantee that every eligible working person in the city gets the Earned Income Tax Credit, a federal program that boosts the income of the working poor but is sadly underused. Expanding enrollment in the EITC would bring tens of millions of dollars into the local economy.


22) Use his bully pulpit to make sure L.A. stops catering to the out-of-state corporations and billionaires, like Walmart and Rupert Murdoch, who want to privatize our public schools, rely on high-stakes testing to evaluate students and teachers, and treat teachers like hired hands rather than professional educators. L.A. has more charter schools than any other big city. A handful of them – like the L.A. Leadership Academy – are innovative and creative. Most of them, however, are educational fast-food franchises. Research shows that most charters are no better and often much worse than public schools in terms of learning outcomes, especially for low-income students and English-language learners. The mayor should use his influence to refocus attention on what’s needed to fix our schools: smaller class sizes, expanded pre-school, more collaborative professional development for teachers and more state funding for public education (California now ranks 47th in per-student funding).

Health Care

23) Work with L.A. County to make sure that eligible residents are enrolled in the new Affordable Care Act so they have access to health care services from local providers, especially community health clinics.

Immigration Reform

24) If Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform, support groups like the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in LA (CHIRLA) to provide aspiring Americans with basic immigration services.

25) Lend his influence to the effort to keep the Koch brothers or Rupert Murdoch from buying the Los Angeles Times and help find a consortium of local civic leaders to purchase the paper and restore local ownership (or stewardship) that cares more about the city than about quarterly earnings.

Finally, Garcetti must recognize that his success as mayor will depend in part on the ability of L.A.’s progressive movement – unions, community organizing groups, environmentalists, public health advocates, community development organizations, enlightened businesses and others – to join forces around a common agenda to catalyze good jobs, livable neighborhoods and a healthy environment. I hope that our new mayor will follow the example of FDR, who told his progressive supporters: “I agree with you. Now go out and make me do it.”

Peter Dreier is the Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Program, at Occidental College. His book, “The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame,” is published by Nation Books.

Madeline Janis: Richard Riordan’s Wrong Ideas Don’t Deserve a Second Chance

From Frying Pan News. Madeline Janis, the author of the post below, is a co-founder of the L.A. Alliance for a New Economy and a former Commissioner for the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency. She led L.A.’s historic living wage campaign during Riordan’s tenure as mayor.

Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan has been in the news lately, arguing that city leaders need to take drastic steps to make Los Angeles more business friendly and get the city functioning again. He has blamed public sector unions for every woe facing the region, including the current financial crisis and potholes on his street in Brentwood.

Mayor Riordan is not just crying in the wilderness. His threat to put a draconian pension-cutting initiative on the ballot played a major part in prompting the City Council last month to hastily adopt its own pension-cutting plan – a plan that almost certainly will be thrown out by the courts as a violation of existing collective bargaining agreements.

Riordan’s resurrection as a major political force begs a fundamental question: How successful was he at bringing business and jobs to L.A. and overseeing scarce public resources when he was running the city?

Riordan was, in fact, one of our least effective mayors. During his two terms from 1993 to 2001, he created a mostly ineffectual economic development program that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on the creation of low-wage jobs and little else. One of his biggest initiatives, the federally funded Community Development Bank, failed miserably. And he created a legacy of insider, backroom deals at the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, which contributed to the ultimate demise of that institution last year.

In 2000, a Ford Foundation-funded project released a report on the activities of Riordan’s Business Team between 1995 and 1999 (full disclosure: LAANE participated in the study along with UCLA economists and graduate students). Interviews with a randomly sampled list of Business Team “clients” found that the Mayor’s Business Team had grossly exaggerated its record of success, and that only 31 percent of the firms that the Business Team claimed to have helped had actually received any substantive assistance. In addition, researchers were not able to find a single firm that claimed that it would have made a different business location decision absent the taxpayer-funded assistance provided by the Business Team. Despite Riordan’s outrage at the study’s findings, his administration was never able to successfully contradict the results of this comprehensive review of its activities.

As for Riordan’s record with the city’s redevelopment agency, I saw firsthand when I was appointed to the CRA Board of Commissioners in 2002, the dangerous culture of secrecy and backroom deals that the Riordan administration had created. In project after project, key records were missing, major contracts were unsigned and “deals” had been negotiated in ways that clearly favored developer interests over the interests of the taxpayers funding the projects. While there were clearly well-meaning people who served in the Riordan administration and who worked hard to achieve results for the City’s taxpayers, the culture of insider dealing and lack of standards and accountability seemed to come from Riordan himself.

Riordan and his defenders have pointed to several large-scale development projects greenlighted during his tenure-such as the Staples Center, LA Live, NoHo Commons and Hollywood and Highland – as evidence that the former mayor successfully used taxpayer resources to create jobs and economic development. However, those seminal projects – which included hundreds of millions of dollars of public subsidies – were turned into good taxpayer investments because of vigorous organizing by coalitions of community, labor and environmental organizations, and the active support of City Council members and responsible developers. Riordan was not helpful in ensuring that the huge public investment in those projects resulted in strong benefits to the communities around them.

Even worse, Riordan vigorously opposed several city laws designed to give workers and communities the benefit of city investment in economic development. This included a city Worker Retention Ordinance, enacted in 1995, the city’s first Living Wage Ordinance, enacted in 1997 and amended in 1998, the City’s Equal Benefits Ordinance, enacted in 1998, and the City’s Responsible Contractor Ordinance, enacted in 2000. Mayor Riordan actively opposed all of these laws, vetoing the key ones like the Living Wage Ordinance and refusing to sign the others.

Richard Riordan got a lot of things wrong when he was mayor. Current elected officials should be wary about taking the former mayor’s advice today.

Hundreds of Students Attempting to Shut Down UC Regents Meeting Over Tuition Hikes

UPDATE (11:19 AM PT): After issuing a dispersal order to remove all students from the room, the Regents are voting on the budget now.

Cross-posted from Firedoglake and Dog Park Media:

About 500 students are currently blockading entrances to the University of California Board of Regents meeting at UC San Francisco this morning, where the Regents are scheduled to vote on a budget that presumes a 24 percent across-the-board increase on UC tuitions over four years. Picketing students have pledged to shut the meeting down.

According to Charlie Eaton, one of the organizers of the protest and co-author of a report released this week that charged the Regents with employing exotic financial instruments that doubled the UC system’s debt load over three and a half years, as of 8:45AM PT only a third of the Regents have made it inside the building. About 100 students are inside, according to Eaton.

At Governor Jerry Brown’s prompting, yesterday the trustees of California’s State University system postponed a decision on fee hikes and the Regents backed off a plan to raise fees on UC professional school students. But major tuition hikes for all UC students remain on the table. The Regents have voted to increase tuitions in all but two of the last eleven years, this year being one of the two.

Last week, California voters passed Proposition 30, which raises taxes in part to stem tuition hikes in the state’s UC and CSU systems. Student organizing and activism played a major role in the success of the Prop 30 campaign. Yet in the very first meeting of the UC Regents following the measure’s passage, the battle over tuition hikes is continuing unabated.

“These proposed increases are totally unacceptable, especially given the fact that the Regents leveraged student tuition hikes to enter into reckless interest rate swaps that created a huge part of UC’s financial mess in the first place,” said Eaton. “There will be no business as usual today for the UC Regents.”

Millions in Prop 30 Tax Revenues Will Be Diverted from Higher Ed to Wall Street, Thanks to Regents

Cross-posted from Firedoglake and Dog Park Media.

Millions of dollars in new tax revenue earmarked for the University of California system as part of the state’s recently passed Proposition 30 will instead be routed to major financial firms, because of bad bets made by a Wall Street-influenced UC Board of Regents.

Over the last decade, tuition and fees for undergraduates in the UC system have tripled, adding enormous debt burdens to UC graduates and pushing lower-income students into the already overburdened state college and community college systems, or out of higher education altogether. Members of the UC Board of Regents, which governs the system and which approved the tuition hikes, have blamed the increases on the bad economy and on politicians.

However, according to a new report written by five doctoral students at UC Berkeley, in the years preceding the 2008 financial collapse, members of the Board of Regents themselves had overseen “a qualitative shift in the financial practices of the University of California” by employing the same kinds of exotic financial instruments that precipitated the meltdown on Wall Street – primarily, bond issuances hedged by interest rate swaps.

An interest rate swap is essentially a bet that interest rates will rise. UC would issue a bond with a variable interest rate, then make regular payments to a third party (typically an investment bank) based on an agreed-upon fixed interest rate. The bank would then pay back to UC a dividend based on the variable interest rate of the original bond, if the variable rate were higher than the fixed rate. If the variable rate were lower than the fixed rate, then the money would go the other way: UC would owe money to the investment bank.

Between 2003 and 2007, the report explains, UC acquired interest rate swaps with five investment banks in order to issue over $600 million in bonds to finance development of medical centers on three campuses. Medical schools and hospitals are major profit centers for universities. As UC used debt financing to expand these profit engines, tuitions for students continued to rise. Since the risky contracts the Board of Regents entered into were made possible by the collateral afforded by UC student tuition costs and by the Board’s ability to jack up tuition and fees at its discretion, the same students whose ballooning debts and tuition payments to the university were making the UC system’s exotic financial bets possible were receiving no tuition relief from the university out of the profits generated by those bets.

The result of these complicated arrangements has become a familiar story since the 2008 meltdown. The Board of Regents’ pursuit of cheap money to increase UC profits left it exposed to the financial collapse. According to the report, UC’s risky bets have now cost it $57 million, which could rise to over $250 million over the next three decades. Between May 2007 and the end of last year, the Regents doubled UC’s debt load. The UC system is currently paying about three quarters of a million dollars per month to Wall Street firms as a result of the swaps.

Moreover, the LIBOR scandal earlier this year demonstrated that Wall Street bets against rising interest rates were in fact fixed by the banks. All of the interest rate swaps described in the report were based on variable rates determined by LIBOR. Through market manipulation by the banks, UC’s bets were guaranteed to be a raw deal for students, their families, taxpayers, faculty, university workers and anyone else associated with the university.

Like many other ripped-off institutional counterparties to LIBOR trades, UC has standing to sue the banks. But the Regents have not only failed to do so, they haven’t even tried to renegotiate the terms of their agreements, as other institutions have successfully done. The question is, why?

“UC Regents and management have provided no explanation for why they are not re-negotiating or litigating against Wall Street to re-coup losses on these swaps stemming from the banks’ illegal interest rate manipulation,” said Charlie Eaton, a UC Berkeley Sociology graduate student and one of the authors of the reports.

One possible answer is another sadly familiar story: The UC Board of Regents has become what the report describes as a “revolving door with Wall Street.” An increasing number of posts in top UC management and on the Board of Regents have been filled by former Wall Street bankers, the report explains, including a new CFO position created in 2009 and filled by Peter Taylor, who was the Managing Director of Public Finance for Lehman Brothers before he found himself out of a job following the firm’s spectacular collapse. Monica Lozano, a UC Regent, also serves on the Board of Bank of America, a position for which she has received approximately $1.5 million. Bank of America stands to make as much as $28 million from an interest rate swap at UC San Francisco, according to the report. B of A is also one of the banks under investigation for LIBOR manipulation.

Prop 30 was passed last week by California voters in part to stem the tide of perpetual tuition hikes and the rapid decline of public higher education in the state. But because of the Regents’ predilection for gambling with student tuition money, much of that new tax revenue will be routed away from tuition relief and toward the very Wall Street firms that – with the Regents’ help – created the financial crisis that accelerated the higher education crisis in California in the first place.

Since its founding, the UC system has always played a central role, both structural and symbolic, in making the California Dream possible. Over the last decade, it appears that the Regents leveraged that dream to make the UC system a player in Wall Street’s casino economy. As with any casino, the game was fixed. Now the rest of us are being forced to pay for their mistakes.

10 Ways Proposition 32 Would Hurt California

This is an article written by Matt Fleischer for Frying Pan News. Check Frying Pan News for in-depth coverage of Prop 32, its funders, and how it will impact working Californians.

California’s Proposition 32 proposes outlawing the use of automatic payroll deductions from union members and corporations for political purposes. Backed by such labor-hating billionaires as the Koch Brothers, Charles Munger Jr., and by anti-marriage equality crusaders like Howard Ahmanson and Larry T. Smith, the measure will decimate unions’ ability to participate in the political process-stripping them of their considerable clout in the state. But that doesn’t mean Prop. 32 is purely about union-busting. Instead, the measure provides its wealthy backers with a means to an end – to eliminate organized labor as the most significant obstacle to imposing a corporate and fundamentalist religious agenda on an otherwise stalwart progressive state.

Prop. 32 isn’t an end game. It’s the beginning of a much larger conservative agenda for California. The only way to truly understand the potential impact of Prop. 32’s passage is to analyze the agenda of its backers.

Here are the 10 most dire issues California can look forward to if Prop. 32 is to pass this week.

1. Toxic Sludge – The Koch Brothers’ $4 million donation to support Prop. 32 is often portrayed as purely ideological. But the Kochs are not disinterested players in the state of California. They own the pulp paper processing company Georgia-Pacific, which has 11 facilities in California and has spent much of the past few years lobbying to gut provisions of California’s Green Chemistry Initiative-a 2008 law protecting California citizens from exposure to toxic industrial chemicals.

2. Global Warming, Here We Come – Prop. 32 backers despise California’s landmark climate change prevention statute, AB 32. The Koch brothers’ most conspicuous foray into California politics – prior to their Prop. 32 support – came in 2010, when the Koch Industries subsidiary, Flint Hills Resources, donated $1 million to support Proposition 23. Had voters ratified it, Prop. 23 would have overturned AB 32. Flint Hills didn’t chip in out of climate-change denial. The company has a substantial investment in Canadian tar sands oil, whose extraction and consumption creates a Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint. Robust clean emissions standards, Koch Industries complained on its website, “would cripple refiners that rely on heavy crude feedstocks.”

3. Offshore Drilling – With lessons of the BP spill two years in hindsight, the idea of offshore drilling in California has resurfaced. Koch Industries recently donated $5,000 to the Congressional campaign of Santa Barbara Republican Tony Strickland-who, in various campaigns over the years, has routinely advocated opening up waters off the coast of California to drilling.

Though they don’t yet appear to have their feet in the door financially, there’s no reason to doubt that, with their army of lobbyists at the ready and history of campaign contributions in the state, the Kochs wouldn’t maneuver to profit off of California’s offshore oil.

4. Bye-Bye Minimum Wage – Not only have Prop. 32 backers been deeply involved in efforts to obliterate living wage efforts in California, they even want to roll back the state’s modest minimum wage requirements. In 2006, Prop. 32 author Thomas Hiltachk and his law firm authored and pushed for the Fair Pay Workplace Flexibility Act. This progressive-sounding bit of legislation would have increased California’s minimum wage by a pittance – while eliminating overtime pay for many workers and freezing all future minimum wage raises without the consent of two-thirds of both houses of the California legislature.

5. School Vouchers – If there’s a unifying issue animating Prop. 32’s backers, it’s that nearly all want to shift public school money to private educational entities. By far the most radical is third-generation venture capitalist and “viral marketing” guru Timothy C. Draper-who thus far has given $100,000 to push Prop. 32. In 2000 Draper was the brains and the piggy bank behind Proposition 38-arguably the most extreme school voucher effort in recent American history.

6. Gay Conversion Therapy – Religious-right Prop. 32 billionaire backers Howard Ahmanson and Larry T. Smith are among the fiercest advocates in the country for gay conversion therapy for minors. Smith’s Family Action PAC helped lobby against SB 1172-the California legislative effort to ban gay-to-straight conversion therapy for minors – which passed in September. Smith fundamentally rejects the notion that parents forcing their underage children to endure conversion therapy could be psychologically harmful. On the contrary, he feels it’s a “parental right.”

Gut labor support for progressive candidates, and the Smiths of the world may have the resources they need to reverse SB 1172.

7. Will Make Prop 8 Will Look Like A Tea Party – California unions have been reliable supporters of marriage equality and LGBT rights. Unions donated nearly $3 million to fight Prop. 8 back in 2008. Should Prop. 32 pass, that support will be lost, and Prop. 8 backers Larry Smith, Howard Ahmanson and their compatriots will undoubtedly continue pushing their conservative religious, anti-gay agenda on the state of California and beyond.

“This is not just about California,” Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs told Frying Pan News. “Labor communities have been very supportive of LGBT rights in the workplace and in the political space. They are reliable allies. If 32 passes, California’s 2.5 million unionized workers won’t be able to contribute their money for political purposes out of state either. The next time there’s a fight in Washington over the Defense of Marriage Act, for instance, labor has less capacity to join us. California is a donor state. The whole chain is interrupted.”

8. Friends of the Minutemen – Prop. 32 backers have plenty of money to go around. This election cycle they’ve been funneling cash to the State Assembly campaign of Orange County Republican Allan Mansoor. Well before Arizona passed its anti-immigrant law SB 1070, then-mayor Mansoor authorized Costa Mesa police to run immigration checks on individuals suspected of crimes, as well as on unlicensed drivers. He even proposed authorizing local police to investigate federal immigration crimes. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Mansoor has close ties to the xenophobic Minutemen.

Mansoor isn’t the only California politician with Minutemen connections receiving support from Prop. 32 backers. San Bernardino Republican State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly is the founder of his town’s Minutemen chapter. He also is leading the charge to repeal the Dream Act, which would allow high-achieving undocumented immigrants to access state scholarships for college.

9. The Poison Pill – Prop. 32 claims it will restrict union and corporate donations to individual candidates. But this provision of the bill seems to conflict with the recent Supreme Court Citizens United ruling. The Republican operative who authored the bill, Thomas Hiltachk, is no sloppy legal mind. One has to assume this conspicuous hole is intentional. Could it be that Prop. 32 was designed so that only a part of it could stand up to a constitutional challenge? Say, for instance, the one thing backers of Prop. 32 have historically been interested in-the end of union workers’ automatic payroll deductions?

“Prop. 32 has a separability clause,” says Alan Crowley, a labor lawyer with the legal firm Weinberg, Roger and Rosenfeld. “In theory, if a law is challenged, the parts that aren’t ruled illegal could go forward. Hypothetically that might be enforced.”

10. A Trojan Horse Onslaught – Prop. 32 is simply not what it says it is. It is a union-busting “paycheck protection” measure masquerading as campaign finance reform. This deception is intentional. In fact, it is the calling card of the political consulting outfit behind Prop. 32, the Dolphin Group. The firm has a history of launching “Trojan Horse” political campaigns in favor of Republicans and corporate interests, including starting Californians for Statewide Smoking Restrictions while working for Big Tobacco, and Coalition for a Sustainable Delta while working for farming interests trying to drain the Sacramento Delta dry. These Trojan Horse measures don’t have a very high success rate, as voters eventually catch on to the subterfuge. Should Prop. 32 pass, however, it will only embolden political consultants like the Dolphin Group to continue with their attempts to fool voters into voting against their interests.

(Hear Matthew Fleischer discuss Prop. 32 on the L.A. Redux podcast.)

After Election Day: Two, Three, Many Prop. 32s

This is an article written by Matt Fleischer for Frying Pan News. Check Frying Pan News for regular in-depth coverage of Prop 32, its funders, and how it will impact working Californians.

In 1978, California voters passed Proposition 13 – a ballot initiative that rolled back property taxes to 1975 levels and capped future increases at two percent. More destructively, it mandated that all future tax raises in the state be approved by the legislature by a two-thirds margin. The law presaged a wave of anti-taxation measures across the country that continues to define the political landscape we inhabit to this day. Ironically, while Prop. 13 was an effective carrier of the anti-taxation message, the rest of America soundly rejected the draconian policies Prop. 13 put into place to block the raising of tax revenues.

“The specifics of Prop. 13 were largely not adopted in other states,” explains Lenny Goldberg, Executive Director of the California Tax Reform Association. “Hardly any states enacted the two-thirds majority rule. And very few states treat taxes on commercial properties like Prop. 13 does. But in a broader sense, the anti-tax movement certainly took off from that point. There’s no question Prop. 13 made a huge contribution to where we are now.”

More than 30 years later, another California ballot initiative stands poised to fundamentally alter national politics. It will do so even if the details of its language are ignored elsewhere. Even, in fact, if it loses November 6. Proposition 32 proposes limiting “special interest” political donations to elections by eliminating mandatory union and corporate payroll deductions from being used for political purposes.

Unlike Prop. 13, however, which built grassroots support from the ground up in California, Prop. 32 is virtually identical to multiple “paycheck protection” initiatives that have been floated by national conservative groups since the early ’90s. Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Ohio, Michigan and Washington are currently the only states in America where paycheck protection measures have become law. A study conducted by the conservative Heritage Foundation shows that union donations to political campaigns in these states dropped 50 percent after the measures were imposed. Alabama, Arizona and North Carolina passed paycheck measures in 2011, but those measures are currently being held back by legal challenges.

According to John Logan, Director of Labor Studies at San Francisco State University, the first paycheck protection measure originated in the state of Washington in 1992. It passed, severely weakening that state’s unions. The measure’s admirers in other states were buoyed by this success. “By the late ’90s,” says Logan, “paycheck protection had become part of the national conservative movement.”

Indeed, the powerful conservative lobbying group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) drafted and endorsed paycheck protection model legislation on May 30, 1998. Months later, a virtually identical version wound up on the California ballot in the form of Proposition 226. It failed by a six percent margin.

“The defeat of 226 in California robbed the paycheck protection movement of momentum,” says Logan. Though conservatives continued pushing similar bills in the decade that followed, the measures were unequivocally defeated across the country.

That all changed, however, in 2010, when the financial crisis and accompanying nationwide budget deficits provided conservatives with the pretext they needed for an assault on unions – especially those representing public-sector employees.

“Six hundred and seventy new Republican legislators came into office after the 2010 election,” says Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy, which has done extensive research into ALEC and its political influence in Wisconsin and throughout the nation. “They took control of 26 states. But before they did they all went flocking to ALEC.”

According to Bottari, on December 3, 2010, incoming Republican freshman legislators attended a large ALEC gathering to coordinate strategies. “The primary issue,” she says “was these union-busting measures like right-to-work and paycheck protection. They got their marching orders and modified ALEC model legislation to local circumstances.”

However, Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of California’s Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute for Public Affairs, points out that, like Prop. 13, the idea of Prop. 32’s actual language being replicated across the country is unlikely.

“The notion that Prop. 32 will disadvantage corporations is so ridiculous it’s hard for me to imagine this strategy will catch on,” he says. “People aren’t buying it.”

Instead, argues Sonenshein, Prop. 32’s legacy-win or lose-will be the massive amounts of money spent by shady, anonymous political action committees to pass similar legislation. In the post-Citizens United world, where unlimited and untraceable donations from corporations and wealthy individuals have become a reality, conservatives and activist billionaires have shown they have the will and the resources to launch non-stop attacks on unions and progressive causes.

“Private entities are forcing labor to defend itself from a volume of money that is overwhelming,” he says. “Measures like 32 weaken labor for future elections and divert attention from other more proactive races unions consider important.”

Bottari agrees: “Part of the strategy nationally is to engage unions in a whack-a-mole game. Unions have a difficult time mobilizing support for other issues when they’re facing fights in all these states at the same time.”

In California, for instance, labor has not been able to provide the kind of support for Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30, which proposes increasing taxes on the wealthy to raise money for public schools, that it would have, had the dire threat of Prop. 32 not been present.

Prop. 32, therefore, is a win-win for its backers. With the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling laying the legal framework, and a nearly unlimited supply of funding available from willing arch-conservatives like the Koch brothers, expect to see this trend repeated across the country. In liberal states like California, such efforts will handcuff progressive legislation from going forward. In less union-friendly states, these measures could win out over time.

“A bad argument repeated can ultimately be effective,” says Sonenshein. “The backers of Prop. 32 have the mindset that you just have to win once. If you keep putting it on the ballot, you may eventually find an election where labor simply isn’t as well organized to defeat it.”

In other words, even if Prop. 32 fails in California in 2012, the constant threat-and likely reality-of similar initiatives being repeatedly put on the ballot will tie down union resources and influence across the country. Win or lose, its impact will be felt around America for years to come.

A Day at the Lincoln Club: My Lunch With the Group Behind Citizens United and Prop. 32

This is an article written by Matt Fleischer for Frying Pan News. Check Frying Pan News for regular in-depth coverage of Prop 32, its funders, and how it will impact working Californians.

“We’re Up to $60 Million”

It’s an unreasonably warm October day, and I’m milling about awkwardly with a handful of suits at a mixer in a small banquet hall at Newport Beach’s Pacific Club-which, according to its website, is the gathering place of choice for the “distinctive life-style of Orange County’s business and professional leaders.”

An incredible thirst suddenly overwhelms me, as I look down and see I’ve practically sweated through my cheap suit. I try my best to keep control of my decorum, but when a busser passes by with a lone Arnold Palmer on his tray, I snatch it greedily from the outstretched hands of another guest and suck the saccharine concoction down in one gulp.

The hot weather may be playing a small role in my odd behavior, but my discomfort is mainly due to the fact this is no ordinary mixer. I’ve successfully infiltrated one of the most powerful and secretive Republican organizations in the country: The Lincoln Club of Orange County. Back in September, I discovered a chink in its otherwise iron-clad armor with this note on the group’s website:

This election year is the most pivotal in recent memory. Will we continue on the path toward expanding government or will we change course and choose liberty? In California, will we stand by while special interests bankrupt our state or will we finally return Sacramento to the voters?

Whether it’s supporting conservative candidates and issues locally or at the national level, Lincoln Club membership gives you an opportunity to put your beliefs into action and to stay informed about crucial happenings in local, statewide, and national politics.

Learn more about how you can make a difference this election year.

Join us! Members are encouraged to attend with their prospective member guests.

The organizational brains and bucks behind Citizens United and Proposition 32 was looking for new members. Who was I to say no?

Easier said than done.

The club only has a few hundred members-none of whom, certainly, would be willing to drag a strange journalist to an event unless the writer were on the Koch brothers’ payroll.

So I RSVP’d independently, hoping that anyone coherent enough to string together a few sentences would be welcome. The contemporary Republican Party isn’t exactly loaded with William F. Buckley-types. If James O’Keefe can occupy an elite niche in the GOP pantheon, surely I could squeeze my way in.

And here I am, in the teeth of the Conservative movement, surrounded by power suits and blonde bouffants, trying to be the best Republican I can be. In preparation, I shaved my sideburns up above my ears, and slicked my hair to the side-a Chappelle’s Show parody of a white guy. I must look the part, as I spy the blondest, most-intimidating bouffant of them all making its way toward me. It belongs to Teresa Hernandez, a onetime Republican congressional candidate who tried to take Hilda Solis’ seat after Obama appointed her Secretary of Labor. Almost as soon as I sign myself in, Hernandez introduces herself.

“Hi, I’m Teresa. I’m a member.” She lets that settle in. “So… ‘Allen,'” she says, staring skeptically at my pseudonymous name tag. “Where are you from?”

“Glendale,” I tell her, which is true, even though it’s an hour’s drive north in L.A. County – which has its own Lincoln Club.

“Glendale, huh? That must have been quite a . . . schlep.”

I breathe a sigh of relief. She doesn’t suspect me of being a journalist. I must have merely set off her Jewdar.

“Oy,” I say, laying it on thick, “a schlep indeed. No traffic, thank heavens.”

“So what brings you all the way down here, Allen?”

“Well,” I tell Hernandez, “if you want to become active in the conservative movement in California, this is the place.

The Lincoln Club of Orange County is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.”

This too, is true. Since the days of Richard Nixon, the Lincoln Club has been the Matrix-like ideological birthing chamber of California Republicanism, whose grandees and arbiters once guided Ronald Reagan, Pete Wilson, George Deukmejian and Arnold Schwarzenegger when their political careers were in their larval stages. That same Lincoln Club gave us the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court victory-which paved the way for Super PACs and unlimited, anonymous corporate donations-and, over the past year, had been instrumental in pushing Proposition 32 onto the California ballot. (The measure would permanently gut the clout of California’s unions by prohibiting automatic payroll deductions from being used for political purposes.)

“Well…that’s good,” Hernandez replies, suddenly uninterested and looking for an exit strategy. I wasn’t ready to let her go.

“So, how are the Prop. 32 efforts looking?” I ask, opening my eyes as wide as possible in my best simulacrum of Republican excitement. “Does it still have a shot?”

Her face immediately brightens: “We’re up to $60 million. We’re outspending them now! I think we’re going to do it.”

With that, more attendees filter in and Hernandez excuses herself to greet them. Many, quite honestly, seem like wealthy retirees with little else to do, although there are some GOP farm league players too, including Garden Grove city council candidate Phat Bui.

But make no mistake: The Lincoln Club is the real deal. And if they have their way, Citizens United is just the beginning of their political ambitions for the country.

Kingmaker of Southland Republicans

When Richard Nixon famously declared, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore,” after losing the 1962 California Governor’s race to Pat Brown, he may also have been predicting the future of his state’s Republican Party. The social revolution of the ’60s would eventually render the party a shrinking minority in an increasingly liberal state. But a group of Orange County businessmen, spurred on by Nixon’s defeat, vowed to never let a champion of conservative values suffer such an embarrassing defeat in California again. Lead by Walter Knott, the founder of Knott’s Berry Farm, and Si Fluor of the Fluor Corporation, they formed the Lincoln Club of Orange County to advocate for the interests of the business community-and the club has been playing kingmaker of Southland Republicans with grand ambitions ever since.

In 1978, the Lincoln Club helped launch the landmark California anti-tax initiative Proposition 13-which capped property taxes at an absurdly low rate and demanded all future tax raises in the state be approved by the legislature by a two-thirds margin. The initiative portended the anti-tax revolution that hangs over the country to this day.

Through the 1990s and early aughts, the Lincoln Club made several attempts to pass “paycheck protection” measures in California-which would have banned unions from taking automatic dues from members. These failed miserably, as voters were sophisticated enough to realize they spelled the political death of California’s 2.5 million union members

In 2007, with union power still too strong for any massive statewide overhauls, the Lincoln Club set their sites on the national election fray, by providing seed money for Hillary: The Movie-an anti-Hillary Clinton political documentary/screed they hoped would ultimately lead to a John McCain presidential victory in 2008. They were even given an executive producer credit on the film.

Hillary was scheduled to air on cable TV in the run-up to the election-but never did, after the Federal Election Commission declared it to be political propaganda and blocked it from being advertised or paid to be shown on television 30 days before the 2008 Democratic primary. The group that produced the film, Citizens United, sued and won its case before the Supreme Court-paving the way for Super PACs and unlimited, anonymous corporate donations to the political process. Where the money came from to support such a massive legal endeavor remains largely unknown, but many suspect the Lincoln Club dug fairly deep into its members’ pockets for the cause.

This year, the Lincoln Club was instrumental in qualifying and pushing onto the California ballot Proposition 32, which proposes limiting “special interest” political donations to elections by eliminating mandatory union and corporate payroll deductions from being used for political purposes – although there don’t seem to be many, if any, state businesses that politically tithe their employees.

Yes, the group that opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate donations to political campaigns, now purports to be interested in “stopping special interest” money from entering politics. Even more cynically, they’ve done so by appropriating Occupy Wall Street-inspired anti-corporate messaging into the political campaign. If passed, the law will likely be used as a model to quash unions in other states.

“A Small Group of People With Just a Little Bit of Money”

Back at the club, the banquet room has slowly filled, and 20 or so attendees sit at three small tables to feast on fried-chicken salad. A skeleton crew of stealthy Latino bussers ferries Arnold Palmers to the tables-one of which revolves around Teresa Hernandez, the other around Lincoln Club chairman and RKW Development president Richard Wagner. Then there’s the third, which revolves around, well, me I guess. It’s nearly empty, as the two other people sitting with me are together and largely engaged in their own conversation.

I’m clearly the reject of the room.

My fortunes, however, change instantly when Lincoln Club president Richard Loewen arrives, sits directly next to me, and begins attacking his fried chicken.

“Sorry I’m late everyone,” he announces to the room after a few bites. “Why don’t we go around and introduce ourselves?”

My palms are so sweaty that by the time my turn comes around I can barely hold on to my silverware.

“Hi, uh, I’m Allen Fleischer. I’m here because I have these, uh…conservative principles buried…uh…deep inside me. And I want to…let them out…”

This is going badly. I need to channel my inner Sean Hannity.

“Liberty and freedom are obviously under assault in America, and they won’t fight for themselves. Myself and other conservatives like to rant about the state of America’s political affairs in casual conversation or to our televisions, but we don’t do anything about it. So I’m here to get involved. And I can’t think of a better place to do that than the Lincoln Club of Orange County…”

Holy shit, that was smooth. Time for the big finish.

“The Lincoln Club is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.”


Like Loewen, most of the guests are buried in their chicken, though I can’t help but notice the approving nods of several cougars. (Still got it!)

After introductions, a brief history video of the club is shown. The topic of Citizens United gets a particularly lengthy discussion.

Richard Wagner, who was club president during the initiative, gets off a good line: “We backed Citizens United to bring down Hillary Clinton, which we did…and we got Barack Obama instead.”

Remorseless laughter fills the room. There’s a very obvious understanding that the sweep of Citizens United goes well beyond Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

After the video, Loewen takes the stage to talk up the current pride of the organization: Proposition 32.

“This measure is really a game-changer,” he says, smiling. “Over the past 20 years, we here at the Lincoln Club have tried getting paycheck protection passed in California three different times with no luck. The measures have just gotten killed by the public unions. Whenever the unions put their full support behind something, no one can beat them.

“But a couple of years ago, we figured, hey, let’s give it another shot. People said we were crazy. And they were probably right. But we started off slow, just to see what would happen. So we gave [conservative journalist] Steve Greenhut $75,000 to write his book Plunder, about how public employee unions are bankrupting the state. It did pretty well.

“Okay, we thought. How about qualifying this thing for the 2012 ballot? Once again, people said we were crazy. But the Tea Party suddenly became interested. With absolutely zero money, they got about 30,000 signatures. A long way off, but we figured it showed some serious interest. Our testing showed the key [to success], unlike our last paycheck protection measures, was including corporations in the measure.

“So we put a little money behind it-about $100,000-and, what do you know, we qualified for the ballot. The unions went ballistic. At first, we were getting killed on spending. But then, out of the blue a massive $4 million donation showed up and the money has been rolling in ever since. People are calling Prop. 32 the second most important vote in the country in this election cycle, after the president.

“So there you have it. A small group of people, with just a little bit of money and the right connections, can have a huge impact.”

We’re Not Racist

After Loewen’s ode to 32, Hernandez stands up to discuss the club’s next big political endeavor-luring Latino voters to the Republican cause.

“Latinos are 39 percent of the population in California and growing,” she says. “And they almost all vote Democrat. We’re never going to win unless we reach this demographic.”

Of course, with state Republicans historically allied with groups like the Minutemen and 1994’s Proposition 187-which, among other things, sought to prevent undocumented immigrants from having access to health care in California-it’s little wonder Latinos are skeptical.

“Even though they agree with us on many social issues, when Latinos think about the Republican Party, they’re thinking about us deporting their grandma or their cousin,” says Hernandez. “When Democrats call us racist-which we’re not-we have no response, no plan we can point to that Latinos can rally behind.”

That is where the Lincoln Club stands poised to jump in with a three-point plan: Securing the border, workplace enforcement and a guest worker program. Of course, Hernandez’s guest worker program doesn’t include a path to citizenship. It’s simply about using immigrants to drive labor prices down and then sending them on their way back home. Unions too, will reject the idea of guest workers, and fight against the plan at all cost. However, should Prop. 32 pass and cripple its ability to fund-raise for political purposes, there will be little labor can do.

Gloria Romero: “Isn’t She Great!”

With the event ending, I flag down Loewen.

“Mr. Loewen, I have to ask: How did you get a liberal like Gloria Romero to front for Prop. 32? That was really a stroke of genius.”

Indeed, nothing in this election season has been more surprising than the decision of Romero, an East L.A. Latina progressive and former California State Senate Democratic majority leader, to join with the Lincoln Club on 32. Romero won a hotly contested run for the California Assembly in 1998, largely by fighting the Lincoln Club on Prop. 32′s progenitor, Proposition 226-the first ‘paycheck protection’ initiative. Now, suddenly, not only is she in favor of 32, she’s become its primary spokesperson.

“Isn’t she great!” Loewen tells me. “We don’t even have to coordinate with her. She just goes for it.”


“She and Teresa are friends. Teresa and her husband own a restaurant in El Monte and a lot of political players tend to eat there-including Democrats. We approached her about 32 way back-maybe a year and a half ago. She told us she’d think about it. We didn’t hear from her for a while. Then, six months ago, she finally called Teresa and said ‘I’m in.’ She’s been 100 percent committed ever since

“We tried to get Common Cause to jump on board too. Their president, Bob Edgar, was actually for it. He’s a friend of mine. But the board ultimately came out against it.”

With that, Loewen flashes me a toothy “oh well” smile, and excuses himself to head outside into the endless Orange County summer.

“You Get a Lot of Wackos on Our Side”

Loewen’s response was typical of the mood at the meeting-a warm, good-humored affair, not tainted by the shrill chest-thumping of Fox News or the life-or-death rhetoric of the Tea Party. Most of those present were absolutely delighted just to be able to speak about these issues strategically, without getting ridiculed by their liberal Southern California colleagues, or having the conversation descend into uneducated birtherism.

“You get a lot of wackos on our side,” one prospective member admitted to me.

That said, of course they’re all good-humored. They’re rich, they’re powerful and they’re pretty much all white.

Their only stake in the larger political battle is holding on to a few extra tax dollars. But the fact is that being rich, white and sophisticated just isn’t enough to stay in control in the 21st Century. With America’s changing demographics, you need to be mercenary. So you plug away, peeling off your opponents’ key allies and hoping voters are foolish enough to vote for your Trojan Horse measures, or apathetic enough to ignore them.

If you lose, there’s no real worry. You finish your chicken salad with a smile, and go home to your wealthy suburban home to fight another day. Two weeks after the election, the Lincoln Club has a sleepover field trip planned at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, where they’ll peruse the new and bizarrely random “Treasures of Walt Disney” exhibit before enjoying a power dinner with Wisconsin’s union-busting Governor Scott Walker.

“Yes on 32, Huh?”

As I head to my car with a fistful of Prop. 32 bumper stickers, I catch one of the parking attendants, an elderly Asian man, dismissively eyeing my political propaganda. I turn to face him, expecting he’ll look away, but he doesn’t.

“Yes on 32, huh?” he asks.

“Oh, you betcha,” I say, channeling my whitest, inner white guy. “We’re going to take the state back from those special interests.”

He pauses for a moment, scanning me up and down. “I’ll be voting no,” he finally says, before walking away.

“What’ll it take to change your mind?” I shout after him.

He doesn’t even turn around.

I smile, hop in my car, and drive as fast as I can back to Los Angeles.

Are Koch Brothers Behind $11M Gift to Prop. 32 Group?

This is an article written by Bill Raden for Frying Pan News. Check Frying Pan News for regular in-depth coverage of Prop 32, its funders, and how it will impact working Californians.

The most recent gusher of Super PAC cash to flow into California’s 2012 election cycle came last Tuesday in the form of an $11 million contribution that has prompted speculation about possible involvement of the Koch brothers. The recipient of the massive donation was the Sacramento-based Small Business Action Committee PAC and its No on Proposition 30/Yes on Proposition 32 efforts. The infusion made headlines, not only because of its generosity but because of its source – an obscure group called Americans for Responsible Leadership, based in Phoenix, Arizona.

The idea of a previously bush-league, locally-focused Arizona PAC writing an $11 million check to out-of-state political campaigns raised an odor that could be smelled all the way to Sacramento. That’s where, it was reported Wednesday, that Ann Ravel, the California Fair Political Practices Commission chairwoman, ordered FPPC attorneys to demand that Americans for Responsible Leadership disclose the contribution’s original donors.

The FPPC sent the demand, with a Wednesday deadline, to the group’s Warrenton, Virginia lawyers – the up-and-coming Republican Super PAC specialists, Holtzman Vogel Josefiak PLLC. It is not yet known at the time of this writing whether the firm had complied.

Ravel’s action comes in response to a complaint filed October 19 by California Common Cause and its Vice President for State Operations, Derek Cressman.

The request that the FPPC act on what Common Cause believes may be the largest “secret political donation in California history” came about when Cressman noticed the uncanny coincidence that Americans for Responsible Leadership shared Holtzman Vogel Josefiak as the same attorneys as the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity PAC and Karl Rove’s Crossroads PAC.

“What we found is there is a Virginia law firm that seems to be ground zero for dark money all across the country,” Cressman says. “They’re tied to the Koch brothers, they’re tied to Karl Rove’s operation, and they’re also behind this Americans for Responsible Leadership group.” That common denominator, he explains, “gives a strong indication of where this money is coming from.”

The implications of those relationships are hardly news to veteran Arizona political operatives. Ever since ARL dropped its $11 million bombshell onto Sacramento, Phoenix has been humming with speculation that the money originated with the Koch brothers.

According to one scenario discussed by longtime observers of Arizona politics, who spoke on condition of anonymity based on the available facts, the Kochs may have wanted to anonymously dump another massive payload on the Yes on 32 campaign. To do so they would need an out-of-state entity in order to get around California’s reporting requirements. These observers conjecture that Americans for Responsible Leadership accommodated by passing the contribution onto SBAC PAC. The price for doing that-according to these observers-may have been to let ARL skim $350,000 off the top in order to fight one of ARL’s in-state bête noires, Arizona’s single open primary initiative, Proposition 121, a ballot measure that ARL fears would bump Tea Party candidates off the general election ballot.

Though Phoenix media consultant Joe Yuhas says he can’t personally confirm such speculation, he is quick to point out that two days after SBAC reported the $11 million contribution, the anti-Prop 121 Stop Top Two Committee revealed it accepted a single $350,000 contribution from ARL.

For his part, Cressman believes that such a scenario sounds “sort of right: It’s like, ‘Sure, you can run some money through us, but let us shave some stuff across the top to work on issues we care about in Arizona.'” It is, he says, “exactly how these deals go down.”

Yuhas, who works for the Phoenix-based media company Riester, is a consultant for both the Prop. 121 campaign and for Arizona’s Proposition 204; the initiatives would create a one-cent-per-dollar sales tax to benefit education. He is no stranger to ARL or its colorful chairman, Robert Graham.

Graham, who ran against Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary and is currently making his second bid to become the state’s GOP chairman, is positively phobic when it comes to labor unions. Besides writing a book proclaiming the world would be better off without them, he made a promotional video in which he compares unions to parasites.

According to Yuhas, Graham was a prominent “supporter of Tea Party candidates in the most recent Phoenix municipal election in 2011.” In fact, he points out, “this is where Americans for Responsible Leadership first emerged. … They funded campaigns against mainstream candidates in support of Tea Party candidates.”

Sam Wercinski works with the Phoenix-based Arizona Advocacy Network to, as he puts it, “promote clean elections and accountability to the voters, not donors. He is well acquainted with Graham, ARL and the SBAC contribution rumors. “What I’ve heard,” Wercinski says, “is that Americans for Responsible Leadership has used Arizona sort of as a laundering site for money to then pour into California. … And Arizona got a slice of that, to then work against citizens’ initiatives.

What has struck Wercinski most about the stories is not that they exist, but their pervasiveness and consistency. “When you start hearing rumors from so many different sources,” he says, “you just have to wonder if this is true or not.”

Establishing the truth of such tales is now in the hands of Ravel and the FPPC. (Frying Pan News calls to Graham and his ARL co-founders, Eric Wnuck and Steven Nickolas requesting comment went unanswered at press time.) To Cressman, however, there’s a victory in the mere fact that the FPPC is taking an active interest.

“They’re acting on our complaint,” he exults, “which is huge.

Borderline Crazy: Prop. 32′s Anti-Immigrant Allies

This is an article written by Matthew Fleischer for Frying Pan News. Check Frying Pan News for regular in-depth coverage of Prop 32, its funders, and how it will impact working Californians.

In October of 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the California Dream Act-which allows undocumented but high-achieving immigrant students to receive state funds to help pay for college. It was a monumental victory for tolerance and the culmination of a long fight-Arnold Schwarzenegger repeatedly vetoed similar measures during his tenure in the California governor’s office.

Come November 6, however, that fight could begin all over again if California’s Proposition 32 passes. The initiative will outlaw the use of automatic payroll deductions from union members and corporations for political purposes, crippling union political activity and empowering the measure’s billionaire backers to impose their political will on the state. While state unions passionately fought for the California Dream Act’s passage, they were opposed by politicians with ties to Prop. 32′s backers. Though they might not be rabid with anti-immigrant bile, Prop. 32′s moneymen have no problem funneling money to politicians who are.

Take for instance, Allan Mansoor, currently running for the State Assembly. He is an avowed enemy of the Dream Act, calling it “A slap in the face to people who followed the rules.” Mansoor has received major donations and support from Prop. 32 backers like Larry T. Smith and his powerful political action committee Family Action and the Lincoln Club of Orange County, as well as Howard Ahmanson.

When he served as mayor of the Orange County city of Costa Mesa in the early aughts, Mansoor launched a very public crackdown on Mexican lunch trucks-or, in his words “roach-coaches” blaring “La Cucaracha”-that were supposedly despoiling the suburban tranquility of his once peaceful town.

The move was blasted by the local press. Wrote OC Weekly food critic Gustavo Arellano: “Trust me on this one: As someone who has followed [these trucks] for nearly a decade, they’re not going into Costa Mesa . . . Mansoor is a bigot.”

The lunch truck crackdown, however, paled besides Mansoor’s next foray into immigration politics. In 2005, well before Arizona ever passed its anti-immigrant law SB 1070, Mansoor authorized Costa Mesa police to run immigration checks on individuals suspected of crimes, as well as on unlicensed drivers. He even proposed authorizing local police to investigate federal immigration crimes-creating a national news story over fear the rule would result in the racial profiling of Latinos.

The situation was ultimately resolved by installing a permanent Immigration and Customs Enforcement official in the local jail. But not before the American Civil Liberties Union sued Mansoor and Costa Mesa, after an immigrant rights advocate was arrested for speaking up against the plan at a city council meeting.

Belinda Escobosa Helzer, director and senior attorney of the ACLU’s Orange County office, which filed the suit, says that during the discovery phase of the lawsuit her group uncovered close ties between Mansoor and the anti-immigrant vigilante group the Minutemen, as well as its founder, Jim Gilchrist. Mansoor was even made an honorary member of the organization at one event.

“We believe the Minutemen to be a very dangerous group,” says Helzer. “Given the history of [Mansoor’s] activities in Costa Mesa, we would be concerned with any public servant who has those kinds of connections.”

Mansoor isn’t the only anti-immigrant zealot receiving material support from Prop. 32’s backers. San Bernardino Republican State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly recently received a $3,900 contribution from Howard Ahmanson’s political asset manager, Fieldstead and Company, for his reelection bid. Donnelly is probably best known for bringing a loaded .45-caliber Colt Mark IV on board a flight to Sacramento in January of this year. His excuse? Illegal immigrants were after him!

Donnelly is one of California’s most publicly anti-immigrant politicians. He’s the founder of his town’s chapter of the Minuteman-the xenophobic group that has tasked itself with patrolling the borders for undocumented immigrants. He was also the leading opponent of the Dream Act. Not only did he vote against the bill’s passage, Donnelly began collecting signatures to have the law repealed by ballot measure shortly after it was signed into law.

Fieldstead, incidentally, donated to Donnelly’s campaign well after his airplane adventure and anti-immigrant paranoia made national news. Ahmanson, rather disingenuously, claims that he himself isn’t anti-immigrant: “Most immigrants,” he told the Sacramento Bee in 2011, “are conservative on the social issues.”

Perhaps more hypocritical than disingenuous, however, is major Prop. 32 donor Jerry Perenchio. Even though he made much of his fortune as a co-owner of the Spanish-language TV network Univision, Perenchio has channeled $2.5 million in this election cycle to Republican candidates across America who could easily be described as anti-immigrant. The money was largely routed through Karl Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC.

In Nevada alone, American Crossroads has supported Republican Senator Dean Heller, who vowed to alter the 14th Amendment to prevent those born in this country from automatically becoming citizens-in order to eliminate immigrant “anchor babies.” Earlier, in a 2011 special election, American Crossroads helped finance the campaign of Republican Mark Amodei, who compares the effects of illegal immigration to the devastation Hurricane Katrina wreaked on New Orleans.

Even before this election cycle, Perenchio donated money to such anti-immigrant California politicians as Santa Barbara Republican Tony Strickland-who voted against both the Dream Act and the Trust Act, the latter of which would have limited California law enforcement’s cooperation with federal officials in rounding up undocumented immigrants for deportation.

Strickland is a popular choice among Prop. 32 donors, receiving a rare direct donation to a California politician from Koch Industries-to the tune of $5,000.

Admittedly, most of Prop. 32’s backers aren’t aggressively anti-immigrant. At least not openly. They’re too savvy for that-after all, 38 percent of California is Latino. On a statewide level, pushing for an Arizona-type law would ultimately mean political suicide for California Republicans.

However, while political considerations may be keeping Prop. 32’s known backers from frothing at the mouth over immigration, it’s the unknown that is cause for concern. Earlier this week, the Prop. 32 campaign netted a massive $11 million donation from a mysterious non-profit calling itself Americans for Responsible Leadership. The organization is based in Arizona.

Little is known about ARL, and even less about its financial supporters. Our efforts to contact the group by press-time were unsuccessful.

Despite the scant details over the Arizona money’s origins, however, its infusion into the political process ultimately points to the greatest cause for concern over Prop. 32-the complete unknown. Even if California Republicans are too timid to launch an Arizona-type crackdown, that doesn’t mean shadowy out-of-state money from wealthy xenophobes couldn’t push for such a measure. As Perenchio’s national donations, as well as pro-Prop. 32 donations to candidates like Mansoor and Donnelly indicate, curbing anti-Latino rhetoric and stemming the tide of xenophobic legislation is nowhere on the Prop. 32 donors’ priority list.