By Michael Panush | 08/04/11 12:00 AM PST

For unions, it’s like a recurring nightmare – the attempt by Republicans and businesses to limit the unions’ ability to finance political campaigns.

Thus far, those efforts have been beaten back. But as the 2012 election cycle looms, the battle is getting under way again.

Currently, members of state-employee unions have funds automatically deducted from their paychecks to cover union dues.

While some may see it as a way to avoid the hassle of filing monthly dues, the fact that these funds often go to union-backed political campaigns has inspired anger in California’s business community – and even among the employees who may favor differing candidates.

The movement to stop the automatic deductions from funding political campaigns has been known as Paycheck Protection by union foes and as Paycheck Deception by the unions themselves. Now, the fight is getting even more intense with a proposal to deny unions the power to contribute to candidates at all.

A proposed initiative now in circulation called the Stop Special Interest Money Now Act by its supporters, would prohibit the use of payroll-deducted funds for political projects. It would still allow union members to voluntarily contribute money to political campaigns, if they authorized it in a written form to be submitted yearly.

Some four million unionized workers could be affected by this initiative. Corporations and contractors would also be affected by the new regulations, a key difference from earlier versions. However, the proposed initiative does go further, additionally preventing the unions and corporations themselves from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate- controlled committees.

This however would not affect unions’ ability to contribute to federal campaigns, which are given through Political Action Committees.

Measures to institute Paycheck Protection have occurred before.

In 2010, a similar proposal attempted but failed to reach the ballot. In 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special election included Proposition 75, which had similar aims but met with defeat.

In 1998, Proposition 226 also tried to halt payroll deductions. Gubernatorial Candidate Gray Davis’s opposition to Proposition 226 earned him crucial union support. Unions spent over $22 million dollars to defeat the measure.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision Communications Workers v. Beck in 1988 allows union members to prohibit their dues being used to pay for activities that are separate from collective bargaining. Similar measures have been proposed in Colorado and Oregon and both were defeated. Utah, Idaho, Ohio, Wyoming, Michigan and Washington all have Paycheck Protection laws.

The latest ballot initiative is backed by Californians Against Special Interests, a group that includes a number of Republicans and business interests, including an array of Orange County political groups.

“No one can question that California is in the vise-like grip of special interests – both corporations and unions. The average Californian’s needs are buried under a landslide of special-interest money,” said Michael Capaldi, a spokesperson for the proposed initiative.

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