Analysis: Propositions 32 and 37 Campaign Ads

California is not a battleground state for the presidential election, so that leaves plenty of room on the airwaves for other statewide commercials. Friday on The California Report Magazine, host Scott Shafer does some fact-checking with KXTV political reporter John Myers. They started off with commercials for and against Proposition 37, the measure to require labels on genetically modified foods in California.

Here’s an ad in favor of Prop. 37:

And here’s a commercial from the “No on 37” campaign:

Edited transcript from Scott Shafer’s conversation with John Myers:

SCOTT SHAFER: So, John Myers, how is the pro-Proposition 37 campaign working?

JOHN MYERS: The early campaign polling was very much in favor of Prop. 37, somewhere in the magnitude of 60 + percent of those polled said they would vote for the measure. But the polling has come down some, at least in part from the massive onslaught of ads — from the opposition side, from the “No on 37” side — they have knocked down some of that support. But again, the bottom line that Californians seem to think about is: “I want to know what a genetically modified food is when I go to the grocery store.” Of course it’s a little bit more complicated than that, which is part of the discussion.

SCOTT SHAFER: And as you mentioned, the “No” side has outraised proponents on Prop. 37 by something like seven to one. Where’s the money coming from on each side?

JOHN MYERS: On the “Yes” side, the money clearly was coming from organic food producers, natural food producers, they’re the ones who helped get it on the ballot. They’re the ones running the campaign. They don’t have a tremendous amount of money, but they have made their presence known. The “No on 37” side, I like to call “big food,” and you can look at every large food manufacturer in the United States and you probably can see their money in the “No” campaign. You’re seeing a lot of their ads both on television and on the internet.

SCOTT SHAFER: And they have raised at least $34 million. What are the basic messages of their campaign?

JOHN MYERS: Their message is simply that Prop. 37 is more complicated than it really seems. They call it the “deceptive food labeling act.” What Prop. 37 essentially says is you’ve got to label these foods that are genetically engineered but you also have to label foods that have genetically engineered components.

SCOTT SHAFER: Let’s move to Proposition 32. It would prohibit political contributions from unions or corporations — but specifically unions which use payroll deductions from their members.

Here’s a “Yes on 32” ad:

SCOTT SHAFER: The central provision there is it’s an even-handed measure — cuts the power of unions and corporations equally. How accurate is that?

JOHN MYERS: The language of Prop. 32 absolutely says it treats corporations and unions the same. The reality is that unions only get their money in California — for California politics, from one place — from these deductions from paychecks of their members. Corporations play politics, and they give political money many other ways.

This is a measure that would impact unions substantially more in the political arena than it would corporations. We’ve fought a similar fight here twice before in California, in 1998 and 2005. Both had ballot measures that would have limited this paycheck deduction process that unions use. In those measures, it would have said unions would have to get permission from their members. This measure, Prop. 32, says, “It doesn’t matter. You can’t do it.” Only voluntary contributions, no more of these automatic deductions from paychecks to use the money for politics. And that is a big, big fight for unions, and that’s why unions have spent so much against it.

SCOTT SHAFER: $40 million and counting. And there was some controversy this week about an $11 million contribution to the “Yes on 32” campaign, can you sort that out for us?

JOHN MYERS: We’re still trying to sort out where that money came from. The $11 million came from an Arizona-based Political Action Committee, and why it raised red flags is that this PAC – as near as we can tell from all our research — has never played in California before — which has led the unions and the “No on 32” people and perhaps some campaign finance watchers to conclude that perhaps there is a back door here around campaign rules.

There are some wiggle areas in California campaign finance laws that allow donors to remain hidden as long as they only play one time in these big donations. There’s a belief that it comes from conservative groups. There are a lot of conservative groups that want to see 32 passed because they think it would negate the power of unions in California.

Here’s a “No on 32” commercial:

SCOTT SHAFER: It is funded, as they suggest in that ad, by big corporations and Super PACs. Is that right?

JOHN MYERS: The “Yes on 32” campaign, it’s hard to see any big corporation money in it right now. The vast majority of the money has come from these Political Action Committees from outside California that we’ve had trouble tracking the donors. It definitely affects one side of the playing field more. I think it is suspect, though, for the “No on 32” Campaign to say it’s going to impact the middle class. There’s another ad that says it will give corporations power to raise your taxes and things like that. Let’s get back to reality. In California, the only way to raise taxes in the state legislature is a two-thirds super-majority vote that requires Republicans and Republicans have never wanted to vote for tax increases. But it would shift the political power in the state.

One other thing – Prop 32 includes this language that says corporations and unions can no longer give contributions to candidate committees. And what that effectively would do, if you had money for unions, would push all that money to these outside expenditure groups, these are like Super PACs on the national level, that we’ve had in California for awhile where they can spend money in unlimited amounts. It would re-route the money and that is a fair point that the “No on 32” campaign has been making.

Learn More:

Prop. 32 Ban on Political Donations Heavily Weighted Against Labor



Prop. 37: Are GMO Labels a Scarlet Letter? 

  • thomas drumm

    32 includes no measure to control re-directing corporate profit to politics, only a curb on VOLUNTARY payroll deductions.