The corporate-funded anti-union movement that has targeted locales from Madison to Chicago has a new target: the state of California. In November, voters will get a chance to vote on Proposition 32, which would disallow labor unions from using their funds to back political candidates.
Although the proposition’s backers say that it would restrict corporate money as well, the problem is that it is written in a way to still allow corporations to finance outside money groups to back candidates — meaning that it would weaken the political power of labor unions while doing little to stop corporations from continuing to have outsized influence.
The primary group advocating for Prop. 32 is the “California Future Fund for Free Markets,” which is running television ads in support of the measure. Last week, the California Secretary of State’s office released disclosures that show contributions to the organization. The one large piece of money going to the group is a $4,080,000 contribution from the “American Future Fund” (AFF).
AFF is actually based about 1,800 miles away from the state of California, in Des Moines, Iowa. Because of a loophole in the tax code that allows for highly political organizations to register as “social welfare organizations,” it’s impossible to know exactly who funds AFF because it is not required to disclose its donors.
However, we do know that Iowa businessman Bruce Rastetter, who runs of a major ethanol company, has admitted to donating to AFF in the past. And an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that Big Pharma gave $300,000 to the group in 2010. We also know that it is run by hard-right Republican state senator Sandra Greiner.
The battle over Prop 32 reveals the absurdities behind the way political disclosure works. Unions will largely make up the bulk of the opposition to the proposition, and every dollar they spend against it will come with full transparency, thanks to California law and regulations put forth by the Department of Labor. But when it comes to the out of state interests spending against Prop 32, they’ll be able to use “social welfare organizations” as shells to spend millions of dollars anonymously.
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