The lead story in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday by Michael J. Mishak presents strong behind-the-scenes details on the Sacramento power of the California Teachers Association. It's the union for 325,000 teachers in the state, with "a war chest as sizable as those of the major political parties," Mishak notes. "CTA can make or break all sorts of deals. It holds sway over Democrats, labor's traditional ally, and Republicans alike."
CTA is one of the biggest political spenders in California. It outpaced all other special interests, including corporate players such as telecommunications giant AT&T and the Chevron oil company, from 2000 through 2009, according to a state study. In that decade, the labor group shelled out more than $211 million in political contributions and lobbying expenses — roughly twice that of the next largest spender, the Service Employees International Union.
Since then it has spent nearly $40 million more, including $4.7 million to help Brown become governor, according to the union's filings with the secretary of state.
In sum, says the Times reporter, CTA "is arguably the most potent force in state politics." Elsewhere in the LA Times, though, business columnist Michael Hiltzik disputes the core assumption of the news story. "Who really wields political power in Cal? Not the teachers union, but the 1%, and they want even more!," he tweeted with a link to his Sunday column.
The headline on the Hiltzik column calls Proposition 32 on the November ballot "a fraud to end all frauds." The measure would ban unions like CTA from amassing political money via payroll deduction, a key source of campaign funds for unions, and bar direct contributions to candidates by unions (which do that) and corporations (which mostly spend to influence elections in other ways.)
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.
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.
What about the Proposition 32 campaign's claim that the measure is all about, and only about, reducing the power of "special interests"? In the interest of being fair and objective, we should be very careful about the word we select to describe this assertion. So let's keep things simple: It's a lie.
Hiltzik's most direct veer away from his colleague's assumption is this: "The treatment of unions and corporations as though they're equivalent political players is an ideological fantasy."