Stop the Special Exemptions Act: It’s Not What it Seems

We all know the wealthy and well-connected are accustomed to playing by their own set of rules. Their high-powered lawyers and lobbyists write special exemptions for them the rest of us would never be able to get.

For instance, G.E. made $14.2 billion in profits yet paid no taxes to the federal government – in fact, they got a refund. Despite crashing our economy and getting a massive bailout from taxpayers, the big banks somehow evade meaningful financial industry regulations. Corporate CEOs are slashing the jobs, wages and retirement of rank-and-file workers, but still giving themselves record bonuses and golden parachutes.

It’s not that there aren’t rules that we should all live by to make this a more fair and equitable society. It’s just that the very wealthy know how to get around those rules by creating a maze of exemptions that allow them to gain even more power at our expense.

This unfortunate reality is on full display with a November ballot measure its wealthy backers say is about getting “special interests” out of politics. Who wouldn’t want to curb the growing influence of Super PACs, anonymous donors and corporate front groups? In a post-Citizens United world, these big-money interests are consolidating political power with frightening efficiency.

Problem is, the so-called “Stop Special Interest Money Now Act” isn’t what it seems. It does absolutely nothing to stem the flow of money into politics from these wealthy interests. In fact, it exempts all of them (and many more corporate interests like real estate investors, insurance companies and billionaire businessmen) while silencing the voice of unions and workers.

Here’s how it works. The measure purports to apply to both unions and corporations equally – but there’s a catch. The initiative is cleverly worded to specifically restrict unions and workers who choose to pool their money to have a voice in politics, while exempting secretive Super PACs and corporate front groups. These shadowy groups — like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS — would still be able to raise unlimited amounts of money from corporate special interests and billionaires to support their candidates or defeat their enemies.

This isn’t campaign finance reform. It isn’t balanced. And it certainly isn’t fair. That’s why we’re calling it the Special Exemptions Act, because these loopholes mean that big business interests would still be allowed to contribute directly to the coffers of political candidates, and corporations can still spend unlimited amounts through their Super PACs.  And the measure does absolutely nothing to prevent anonymous donors from spending unlimited amounts to influence elections. Doesn’t sound much like reform, does it?

Already, the truth about the real intent of the measure is starting to trickle out. The Sacramento Bee says it’s “dripping with cynicism… It certainly won’t prevent one-percenters from getting their two cents in, or their $2 million.”  Columnist Tom Elias called it “…a phony veneer of fairness…one-sided and biased.” The LA Times pointed out that it “…would just expand unaccountable independent expenditure committees, the super-PACs.”

And good-government groups are lining up to oppose the measure. California Common Cause believes it “…will do more harm to California’s democracy than good,” and Public Citizen says “It is little more than an attack on labor masquerading as campaign finance reform.”

It comes as no surprise to us that billionaires and CEOs would use a measure like this to keep everyday heroes like our local teachers and nurses and the firefighters and police that keep us safe from having a voice in politics. . That’s because workers standing together are one of the few remaining counterbalancing forces to corporate greed and excess in our political system.

Corporations already outspend unions 15-to-1, and if they succeed in silencing us altogether, that means they’ll have little opposition left when they try to outsource our jobs, roll back workplace safety laws, cut school funding and do away with the social safety net.

In the end, that’s all this measure is really about — silencing unions so the 1% has an even easier time pushing through their agenda.

If you still question the real motive behind this measure, consider this: The anti-union Lincoln Club of Orange County, which was responsible for getting this measure on the ballot, was instrumental in backing the Citizens United case that gutted federal campaign finance reform.

According to California Watch:

The Lincoln Club of Orange County had a big hand in the landmark Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the floodgate of special-interest money in presidential politics.

Those behind this measure aren’t do-gooders trying to reform government. They’re calculating, well-heeled anti-worker activists and corporate special interests who will stop at nothing to drown out the voices of working people in politics.

And if this deceptive measure passes, the result would be a devastating tilt in power to big banks, corporate CEOs and billionaires that would further undermine California’s middle class.

That’s precisely what the millionaires behind this measure want. And it’s up to all of us to stop it from happening.

Learn more and join the fight to Stop the Special Exemptions Act.