Proposition 89 - Hypocrisy with a capital "H"

by Tony Quinn
Aug. 3, 2006
Sometime hypocrisy is not too strong a word in politics, and Proposition 89 on the November ballot is just such an example. This measure is titled “Political campaigns, public financing, corporate tax increase, campaign contributions and expenditure limits.” Quite a mouthful, but what it really does is take way the ability of business to participate in the political process.

That’s because hidden in the measure are prohibitions on corporations raising and spending money to support candidates and ballot measures. But there are no limits on unions, trial lawyers and others who participate in the process.

The measure is the brainchild of the California Nurses Association and has the active support of fringe anti-business groups like Harvey Rosenfield’s Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a well-known trial lawyer front group.

Campaign finance reform has a long history in America, going all the way back to Watergate and the public financing of presidential campaigns. Congressional campaigns are governed by the McCain Feingold Act, passed in 2002. But all of these reforms have attempted to level the electoral playing field, with equal limits and prohibitions on both business and labor.

Not Proposition 89. Right in the preamble, supporters tell us what it's all about: “Campaign-related spending by business corporations is especially corrupting because of its corrosive and distorting effects. The immense aggregations of wealth that are accumulated with the help of the corporate form have little or no correlation to the to the public’s support for the corporation’s political ideas, and the corporations should not be allowed to exert an undue influence on the outcome of candidate and ballot measure elections.”

So it's clear, we don’t like what the corporations do in the political process so we won’t let them participate. There is nothing about “reducing the corrosive effect” of political money – a long-term goal of campaign finance reformers – by limiting both business and its adversaries. These people believe the corrosive effect is just when business is involved in politics.

Proposition 89 limits the amount a corporation may spend in a ballot measure campaign to just $10,000, and prohibits contributions to candidates altogether. These prohibitions are particularly odious because there is no limit on any other players. So if a group qualifies a ballot measure to impose new regulations or new taxes on business, the sponsors may spend an unlimited amount of money but business may not spend more than $10,000 to defend itself.

Were this law in effect now, oil companies could not communicate to the public that the $4 billion oil tax hike in Proposition 87 is not good for the economy.

So what we have with Proposition 89 is a nifty way to rig elections: allow one side to spend money without any limitations at all, while silencing the voice of the other side. This is the dream of California’s anti-corporation activists come true; you simply silence your opponents by taking away their ability to communicate.

The Supreme Court long ago saw the flaw in this sort of campaign reform, and has said pretty firmly that business, like everyone else, has a right to participate in the political process, the Harvey Rosefields of the world not withstanding.

Proposition 89 also sets up a nearly incomprehensible system of public financing of all state campaigns in California, and that is to be funded by a new $200 million tax on corporations and financial institutions. In other words, corporations are being forced to provide the rope with which to hang themselves.

Over the past 30 years, some 22 anti-business ballot measures of one kind or another have appeared on California’s primary and general election ballot. With few exceptions, business has been able to convince the voters that these measures are bad for the state’s economy, and they have been defeated.

That’s been bad news for the anti-business lobby, so they wrote and qualified Proposition 89. They cannot beat business at the ballot box, so let’s put them out of business by silencing their voice in the political debate. This is one ballot measure where the business community has a legitimate and pressing need to become involved, and make sure Proposition 89, Hypocrisy with a Capital H, does not pass.

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