Published: Oct. 2, 2012 Updated: 5:24 p.m.


The November election will bring a third attempt to curb the political power of unions in California.

Proposition 32 would ban the use of payroll deductions for political purposes in state campaigns, eliminating a tool that has made organized labor a major donor to Democrats for decades.

This time, unlike earlier failed attempts in 2005 and 1995, proponents say they’re going after corporate money as well. Their proposal would ban all union and corporate contributions to candidates.

However, it would do nothing to regulate contributions to ballot measures or independent expenditures – spending that is uncontrolled by a candidate or ballot measure committee. In California, those have been unlimited for years.

“People in California know their government is broken,” said former Democratic state Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles, who signed the ballot argument for Proposition 32. “We need to curb and reduce the ties that bind politicians to special interests.”

Not so fast, said Chris Carson of the League of Women Voters. She said the measure strips unions of power while leaving business interests unscathed.

“In California virtually no corporations use payroll deductions to finance political contributions,” Carson said. By banning payroll deductions for political purposes “you prevent millions of Californians from speaking out.”

While the initiative would strip unions of their main source of funding for ballot measures and independent expenditures, corporations could continue to use their treasuries.

The measure already has drawn some $50 million in contributions – more than any other initiative on the ballot. That total could easily double by Election Day. Labor unions who oppose the measure are outraising backers by about 4-to-1.

Romero and other backers say Proposition 32 would align California with federal law, which has long blocked direct corporate or union contributions to candidates.

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