Tag Archives: Prop 32

California’s Billionaire Ballot: The Good, Bad, And Ugly


Populist governor Hiram Johnson gave Californians the ballot initiative one hundred and one years ago to combat the stranglehold of wealthy scions over the statehouse. Today’s New York Times reports on how California’s ballot measures are dominated by a handful of billionaires, including some trying to buy more power for themselves and their companies. Call it The Billionaire Ballot.

In modern history there has been no slate of ballot measures with so much concentrated wealth behind it. But can we judge a ballot measure by the billionaire behind it? It depends what the billionaire wants.

Here’s a populist guide to the Good, Bad and Ugly of California’s Billionaire Ballot:

The U G L Y: Two insurance billionaires are the big funding behind Proposition 32 and 33. Both initiatives have been rejected before. The tens of millions being poured in by two insurance billionaires are pure power grabs to get more money and power for the backers of Proposition 32 and 33.

Proposition 33 is backed by Mercury Insurance Chairman George Joseph, who has spent $16 million, 99.5% of the funds behind the initiative, to charge drivers more for not having auto insurance previously, even if the reason is they didn’t drive. Billionaires buying the ballot to help their own profits doesn’t get much uglier than Prop 33.

Prop 32 features the heir to the Berkshire Hathway fortune, including GEICO and another insurance company, buying the ballot to gut the power of labor unions in the political process. This of course helps the super-rich and insurance companies have more power. GEICO heir Charlie Munger Jr. poured $22 million into Prop 32, and it isn’t to benefit The People, but His People. Hiram Johnson rating: U.G.L.Y!

The BAD: Molly Munger, the other heir to the Berkshire Hathaway fortune, the liberal one, is funding an altruistic ballot measure, Prop 38, which is backed by the PTA and funds education. The problem is it has little public support and is likely not only to fail, but could bring down Prop 30, Governor Brown’s budget mending ballot measure, which Munger briefly attacked directly. Rule for billionaires in ballot measures: start with 70% approval rating, not 40%. IF you don’t have the public with you at the beginning, you are not likely to win voters over. And if there’s a competing ballot measure, it’s likely to be a pox on everyone’s house.

The GOOD: At least two billionaires have the right idea. Environmentalist and hedgefund manager Tom Steyer is funding Prop 39, an enlightened idea to close the state’s loophole on taking out of state corporations, and generate $1 billion for the beleaguered state treasury. Steyer used his money to stop oil companies from gutting the state’s greenhouse gas emissions law last election, for which he earned my consumer group’s Phillip Burton Public Service Award.

Nicholas Berrgruen’s financing pushed Prop 31 on the ballot at the last minute. It’s a two year budget cycle initiative reform that has positives and negatives, but Berrgruen sponsored the idea because he believed it would benefit Californians, not line his own pockets. In the end, that’s all we can really ask of billionaires that want to play in ballot measure politics: 1) Do it for the state, not to benefit yourself or your class 2) Don’t screw anyone else who has a better idea and is more in sync with public opinion.

It takes big money to play in California’s ballot measure process today, so billionaires are plenty welcome. But if they are in it for themselves, they aren’t likely to fool the voters, who have a remarkable knack for rejecting any ballot initiative with a stink behind it. In the end, the initiative process is still the people’s. Voters decide, and their judgment over the billionaires is the final verdict.


Originally Posted on The Huffington Post by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

New Ads from Yes on 30 and No on 32

Campaign heats up

by Brian Leubitz

While the focus of the nation may be on the presidential debate tonight, the election is in full swing here in California. And today we see new commercials from both the Yes on 30 (revenue) and No on 32 (Special Exemptions) campaigns.

First, the Yes on 30 ad:

Here’s the No on 32 ad:

For California progressives, the choice is clear. Yes on 30 enables us to move forward without the further drastic cuts, and No on 32 protects the voice of working Californians.

Note: Brian Leubitz, the editor of this blog, works for the No on 32 campaign. Please like the campaign on facebook or follow on twitter. You can also get your No on 32 T-shirt here.

Prop 32 Panned Across the State

Newspapers editorialize, columnists argue against Prop 32

by Brian Leubitz

If you’ve been paying attention to the California ballot this year, you’ll see that many newspapers have editorialized on the initiatives already. And across the state, major newspapers are saying No on Prop 32, the Special Exemptions Act. There are a variety of reasons in the editorials and columns, but they all boil down to the fact that the measure is not really political reform.

Let’s start with the Sacramento Bee:

Proposition 32 would do nothing to curb independent expenditures.

Nor would Proposition 32 increase transparency of campaign money. It offers no additional tools to help the Fair Political Practices Commission and prosecutors investigate corruption. It makes no attempt to deal with ballot measure spending.(Sacbee)

You see, while the proponents argue that Prop 32 will reform the political system, the truth is that it not only exempts many businesses, but it also unfairly singles out labor. From the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial against Prop 32:

Meanwhile, organized labor has made defeat of Prop. 32 its highest priority in California because of what is unquestionably its most consequential element: A prohibition on the use of payroll deductions for political purposes. …  The measure does not attempt to put similar constraints on the ability of corporations and other interests to raise money. It does prevent corporations from using payroll deductions – but, in reality, that is rarely where they go for political money.(SF Chronicle)

And in the end, Prop 32 just isn’t what it seems. That’s why you see words like the following from the San Jose Mercury News:

If Proposition 32 did what supporters claim — limit all special interest money from corrupting the political system — we would heartily endorse it. It doesn’t. It is a deceptive sham that would magnify the influence of wealthy interests while shutting out many middle-class voters. Vote no on Proposition 32. (SJ Merc)

Note: Brian Leubitz, the editor of this blog, works for the No on 32 campaign. Please like the campaign on facebook or follow on twitter. You can also get your No on 32 T-shirt here.

First No on 32 Campaign Ad Highlights Special Exemptions

Ad shows that funders of Prop 32 give themselves exemptions

Today, the NO on Proposition 32 campaign released its first TV advertisement of the campaign, highlighting the fact that the same powerful corporate special interests that are funding Proposition 32 are exempt from its carefully-crafted provisions. Watch the ad:

This is simple, Prop 32 claims it will stop campaign spending by special interests, but it exempts those who are funding the campaign. Those special interests will have free reign to give themselves more tax breaks, while the middle class pays the price. Prop 32 is just not what it seems.

But a quick breakdown on what Prop 32 would do. The supporters claim it will get corporate and labor money out of politics, but that isn’t even remotely close to being the case. With the rise of independent expenditures, huge amounts of money are tossed about without going to candidates. Yet, Prop 32 doesn’t even touch those.

But what it is really about is “paycheck deception.” Back in 1998 and 2005, Californians voted down similar measures, but here it is again. Prop 32 goes even further by completely banning paycheck deductions for political purposes, even with express permission. For corporations, that isn’t a big deal at all. After all, their money comes from their corporate treasury.  For labor, while political paycheck deductions are already completely voluntary, they are very important. Long story short, Prop 32 is just another means to silence working Californians, while allowing the SuperPAC Billionaires free rein over our governance.

And the fact that the American Future Fund (AFF) a SuperPAC with ties to Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers contributed $4million to support Prop 32 makes this all the more clear. How can you argue that you are trying to create political reform when one of your largest donors is an anonymous SuperPAC?

Share the video with your networks and get the word out about the deceptive Proposition 32.

Note: Brian Leubitz, the editor of this blog, works for the No on 32 campaign. Please like the campaign on facebook or follow on twitter.

Mitt + Koch = Prop 32 ways to buy CA

That’s what the banner flying over Mitt Romney’s Orange County fundraiser said today. Why?

First it was Wisconsin. Then it was Ohio. Now the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove and the Tea Party have their eyes on an even bigger prize: the eighth largest economy in the world. Home to 35 million people, 10% of the nation’s population. Yep. The ultra-right Koch Brothers with the help of Karl Rove and the Tea Party have just made a major investment in deep blue California.

The Koch Brothers and Karl Rove recently joined the Lincoln Club, Charlie Munger, Jr. and a few other billionaires to buy passage of Prop. 32 in California this November.  If Prop. 32 passes, 3 million members of labor unions will no longer have the ability to participate in politics.  Why? Because Prop. 32 tells the lie that it would get money out of politics in California when what it really does is get worker money out of politics and double down on the ability for corporations and the wealthy to buy their own private legislation.

The Kochs, Mr. Rove and Mr. Munger understand that in this Citizens United world, the only bulwark against a complete takeover by big companies and the uber rich is organized labor (you know the folks that brought you the 40 hour work week and a little thing called the weekend). And the only way members of unions can participate in politics is by signing up for payroll deduction so that their union has the money to fight for or against candidates and ballot measures who seek progress, not an exaggeration of the wealth gap.  Individual union members simply cannot express their voice if they cannot pool their money.  Can you imagine a $12 an hour janitor hiring a lobbyist in Sacramento to fight the Kochs?  Of course not. But 100,000 janitors can pool their money and keep the Kochs and Bain and Mitt Romney from firing them if they get sick or have a baby.

The Kochs and Rove understand that if they can keep union money out of politics, they win hands down. If Prop32 passes in California, one-third of SEIUs political budget is gone, with sizeable chunks taken from the AFL-CIO and just about any other big national union you can think of.  

You may or may not “like unions.” Like any other institution, they are not monolithic, are run by fallible human beings and don’t always move a perfect progressive agenda. But if you care even one whit about the successes we’ve had on maternity and paternity leaves, freedom of speech at the work place, increasing the minimum wage, basic decency between the boss and the worker, then you’d better care a lot about Prop. 32.  

If you cared about Howard Dean having a voice and reshaping politics when he ran for president, you’d better care about this because unions backed him at a crucial time.  If you care about Democrats winning the White House or key congressional elections, you’d better care about this. If you care about building progressive power on the ground, you’d better care about this.

And if you care about taking back our democracy from the super rich and corporations, you better fight against this.  

The Kochs, Mr. Rove, the Lincoln Club (which brought us Citizens United in the first place) and their merry band of billionaires have one goal:  make as much money for as few people for as long as possible. Nothing else matters to them. They don’t really care if their rapacity brings down the nation; they’ll have enough money to live happily ever after behind armed walls, in private jets and on any islands they choose to buy.

We saw what happened in Wisconsin. We see what they are trying to do in state legislatures across this country. The Tea Party, Karl Rove, the Koch’s, ALEC are all trying to beat back democracy, tear down the middle class and destroy unions all in favor of advancing a far right agenda meant to put profits over people.

We in California can put a stop to this. We can say no to the Koch brothers/Karl Rove/RomneyBain and show them that people power can still beat corporate money. We can also tell them that the eighth largest economy in the world is not up to bid to the highest bidder.

For more on the campaign to defeat Prop 32, and for information about how you can join the fight, please click here.

This was crossposted from The Huffington Post.

Rove/Koch Brothers Connected SuperPAC Goes Big on Prop 32

American Future Fund (AFF) creates $4Mil Yes on 32 Committee

by Brian Leubitz

While the Yes on 32 team would have Californians believe that Prop 32 is just a good ol’ political reform measure, any notion of that should go by the boards now:

Look what just arrived in the Friday-afternoon-news-dump: A $4 million contribution to Prop 32 … So what’s the connection between the donor – the Des Moines, Iowa-based American Future Fund – and the billionaire conservative financiers the Koch brothers? Because of opaque campaign finance laws, tracing the money is a challenge. Politico makes the case here. (SF Chronicle)

If you follow that Politico link you will see that AFF is connected to the Center to Protect Patient Rights, a Koch-funded “nonprofit” that gives out money to other groups that do much of the dirty work.

What we now have in Prop 32 is not only a deceptive measure, but one that is being supported by the very folks that want to obliterate all campaign finance regulations.  This clearly puts the lie to this being about anything other than an anti-labor scheme. More than ever this is the time that we need to roll up our sleeves and make sure our neighbors understand what this tricky measure really is.

You can start today by sharing the Chronicle story with your friends on facebook and twitter. But more important is that direct communication with friends and co-workers that is the most persuasive. There are just over seven weeks remaining, and we need to make them count.

Note: Brian Leubitz, the editor of this blog, works for the No on 32 campaign. Please like the campaign on facebook or follow on twitter.

Emily Lo: Standing Up Against Prop 32; Karl Rove Standing For SuperPACs

(With the DNC going on, much attention is being paid to national races. But some pretty amazing folks are fighting Prop 32 back here in California. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Emily Lo:     Share on Facebook

Hello my name is Emily, I’m a firefighter with the City of Davis Fire Department. I’ve been in the Fire Service for over twenty-two years.

You may have heard about Prop 32. It may seem balanced. It may seem fair, but it’s not. It is very deceptive and it is unbalanced. It is a way of silencing the union and workers’ voices, everyday working class voices.

My community counts on me to do my job, to keep them safe. In order for that to happen, firefighters need adequate staffing, and they need up to date equipment. And in order to advocate for those things, we need a voice in the capitol. That is what our union does for us. Our unions give us a collective voice. They voice our concerns, from a health and safety point of view, for our equipment, and for fire safety.

As much as my community counts on me to do my job, I count on my right to have a voice and to be heard in the process in Sacramento. We need to have our individual and collective voices heard. If Prop 32 passes, that will silence our voice.

To me, this is really a safety issue. If you are concerned about our firefighters being able to adequately serve our communities, please vote No on Prop 32. If you care about making sure we have the fastest possible response time to your emergency, vote No on Prop 32. If you care about safety in your community, please vote No on Prop 32.

Karl Rove

Karl RoveKarl Rove, a long-time George W Bush administration official, has moved into the world of “non-profit” political advocacy and SuperPACs in the last few years. In 2010, his groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, spent over $70mil in outside spending across the country. He has become the SuperPAC powerhouse. Much of that money is collected through “non-profit social welfare organizations” that do not require him to disclose his donors.

And the money will not slow down this year. Already Crossroads GPS has made some major ad purchases, including one recent ad buy of over $25 million. And it isn’t just the presidential race, the group has spent millions attacking candidates in Congressional races.

And despite all the evidence about how campaign finance is moving to out of control outside organizations, Prop 32 does nothing about these groups. That is why leading campaign finance advocates like the League of Women Voters are saying that Prop 32 “promises political reform but it’s really designed by its special interest backers to help themselves and harm their opponents.”

If Proposition 32 passes, independent expenditure campaigns will grow even more powerful in California. And maybe that suits Karl Rove just fine, but that’s hardly in the best interest of everyday Californians.

Note: Brian Leubitz, the editor of this blog, works for the No on 32 campaign. Please like the campaign on facebook or follow on twitter.

LA Mayor Villaraigosa Tells Yes on 32 Campaign to Stop Misleading Voters

LAFD Press ConfMayor says Yes on 32 campaign “based on deception”

by Brian Leubitz

In a rather strongly worded letter (PDF), Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has told the Yes on 32 campaign to stop using his name in their materials.

I am shocked to learn that you used my name and an out-of-context quotation of my words in a blatantly deceptive way, first in your rebuttal argument in support of Proposition 32, and now again in a campaign web video.

But perhaps my surprise is misplaced. After all, the entire Yes on Proposition 32 campaign is based on deception and a distasteful disregard for the facts. Your unauthorized use of my name and words creates a misleading impression for voters that I support Prop 32. This is patently false. Moreover, it is a cynical and disrespectful manipulation of the initiative process.  Voters deserve truthful information.

As the LA Times’ Hiltzik said over the weekend, “it’s hard to conceive how one could be more fraudulent than Proposition 32.”

Note: I work for the No on 32 campaign. Please like the campaign on facebook and follow on twitter.

Michael Hiltzik Skewers Prop 32 in the LA Times

Prop 32, the Special Exemptions Act, “bristles with loopholes for businesses and their wealthy backers.”

by Brian Leubitz

Over the weekend, the LA Times’ Michael Hiltzik wrote a column about Prop 32, and he did not pull any punches. After he described how LBJ would not appreciate the “Rich Persons and Corporations Empowerment Act of 2012,” he detailed some of the many deceptive points of this measure. But before going through that, he stops to put Prop 32 in its place in history:

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

Why is it so fraudulent? Well, not only does he mention that the measure “bristles with loopholes for businesses and their wealthy backers” but he then goes on to highlight how this is really just another attempt at “paycheck deception.”

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

*** **** ***

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

In truth, Prop 32 does what its supporters want it to do, silence working Californians while allowing SuperPAC Billionaires to keep on doing what they are doing. Or, as Hiltzik says it, they are trying to pull one over on us:

The message the perpetrators of Proposition 32 are sending to you, the California voter, is that they think you’re stupid. Really, really stupid.

When you go to the voting booth or fill out your mail ballot this November, stop for a moment and ponder this question: Should I hand over my vote to people who think of me that way?

If you have a moment, share the article with your friends and family. This is one column that all California voters should read before they vote in November.

Note: I work for the No on 32 campaign. Please like the campaign on facebook or follow on twitter.

CA GOP Continues its Death Spiral, Seeks Help From Prop 32 Supporters

CRP Chairman Tom Del Beccaro in SacramentoCalifornia Republican Party faces fiscal, organizing questions. Banks on Special Exemptions.

by Brian Leubitz

The California Republican Party is in something of a desperate situation. They hold no statewide offices, and then they had a story in the New York Times titled “Republican Party in California Is Caught in Cycle of Decline.”

That’s never a good thing, especially when it is combined with a follow-up from the San Francisco Chronicle with some worrying financial numbers. Without getting deeply into the nitty, gritty, it is pretty bad. They are expected to reveal a deficit of nearly half a million dollars, and are considering closing their Sacramento office.

All of this is to say that the state party won’t be much help to candidates and campaigns come November. This is not to say those campaigns won’t get help, but the party structure is showing heavy strain. So, Republicans are now looking elsewhere for support and a brighter future.  In fact, they’re looking to one specific spot on the ballot for their long-term future: Prop 32. (Note: I work for the No on 32 campaign)

California Republican Party Chair Tom Del Beccarro, who was elected partially on a platform of getting the CRP’s fiscal house in order stated this explicitly:

“This November, Prop 32 could well pass, bring {sic} reforms to our system, including barring direct contributions from corporations and unions and paycheck protection. When that passes, California will have a more level playing field, Republicans will have a new day and be rather competitive statewide.” (Newsmax)

Shorter Tom: by cutting labor off through the so-called “political reform” measure, Republicans are the big winners.

And why is that? Well, it could be that Prop 32 isn’t what it seems at all. As Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and other good government groups said this week this is not real political reform at all. It leaves loopholes that Big Business can use to get their money into the system, but severely hobbles the voices of working Californians.

Perhaps that is why Prop 32 is so popular on the Republican side of the ledger, and why the Yes on 32 campaign is so close to the Republican party. In fact, Charles Munger, Jr., Chair of the Santa Clara County Republican Party, and one of the top funders of the Yes on 32 campaign (over $235K!) is now stepping in for what was once the purview of the state party:

The result, Stutzman and other Republicans say, is that other organizations and individuals are filling the void – with robust national and county-based operations like those in Tulare, San Luis Obispo and Santa Clara County, where millionaire GOP activist Charles Munger is heading up fundraising, phone banking and voter contacts usually managed by the party.

Whatever the motives of the Prop 32 proponents really were, the end result is a biased and dangerous measure for everyday Californians. And if the Republican Party recognizes that Prop 32 is their best shot of pushing their agenda forward, what kind of balanced reform could it possibly be?

P.s. Feel free to sign up for the No on 32 email list, or find the campaign on twitter or facebook.