Never Look A Gift (Clause) Horse In The Mouth

In America, it is impossible to snuff out money from politics. As long as government has the power to dish out favors to politically connected interests, it will continue to attract money, in the form of lobbying and campaign contributions, from those seeking to influence how it doles out its largess.

This November, California voters will have the opportunity to throw a wrench in this vicious cycle by voting for Proposition 32, which would ban corporations and unions from directly contributing to elected officials, bar government contractors from making political donations to state officials who control their contracts, and prohibit automatic deductions of wages from employees for political purposes.

Opponents of Prop 32, comprised largely of labor unions and their allies such as the League of Women Voters, counter in a statement that the measure “does not take money out of politics—because super PACs and independent expenditure committees are exempt from its controls.” Special interests — unions, corporations, and government contractors — would still be able to spend substantial funds on politics, but through indirect means. The bans on direct donations to elected officials simply would change how political spending is done, but would not roll back special interests’ influence on California’s state government.

True enough, but that is not the whole story. Prop 32 adversaries gloss over the voter initiative’s lone stride toward loosening special interest power. The paycheck protection component, which would prohibit automatic payroll deductions of union dues, does take away one government-granted privilege to one special interest group: organized labor.

Currently, California and many other states provide public sector unions with what amounts to a taxpayer-funded dues collection service. Prop 32’s paycheck protection clause would relieve taxpayers and individual union members from being forced to finance organized labor’s political agenda. The seemingly commonsense reform closes the door on an instance where government does hold the power to aid a special interest.

Unsurprisingly, unions,and their allies have opposed Prop 32 most vigorously over its paycheck protection provision. California Labor Federation chief Art Pulaski argues that Prop 32 “is intended not to hobble us, this is intended to eviscerate us.” Union advocates believe that absent the authority to force workers to pay dues and government offering complimentary bill collection services, workers would not voluntarily contribute to union political activity. And they’re right.

That’s why unions and cronies have spent over $50 million total to date to thwart Prop 32, outspending the measure’s supporters. That spending has had an effect. The Reason-Rupe latest poll has opponents of Prop 32 leading, with 48 percent, with 45 percent supporting the measure.

That is unfortunate because paycheck protection would give workers more control over their own money, and save tax dollars by ending government-subsidized bill collection for public-sector unions.

So would Californians have another recourse toward ending public sector union favoritism if Prop 32 were to lose at the ballot box? Fortunately, yes. Even if Prop 32 were to fail, the California Constitution is still the law of the land.  Specifically, Article XVI, section 6, known as the Gift Clause provision, states: “The Legislature shall have no power to give or to lend… the credit of the State, or of any… other political corporation or subdivision… in aid of or to any person, association, or corporation… nor shall it have power to make any gift or authorize the making of any gift, of any public money or thing of value to any individual, municipal or other corporation whatever.”

Clearly, no matter how things go on Prop 32, government using public funds to promote government union private interests violates this Gift Clause and common decency.