Re: “Stop special interest money,” The Taxman, Feb. 15, page 5.

Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — who makes his healthy living (last reported to be $300,000 annually) fundraising, concealing, and dispensing special interest money through what the Sacramento Bee calls “a sophisticated series of nonprofit corporations and political action committees” — this week issued a righteous call to “stop special interest money.” How about that?

Of course, anyone who has followed California politics over the last few decades knows that the group founded by the late Jarvis, now led by Coupal, is one of the biggest, most powerful, most-entrenched special interests under the dome. As the Bee’s Dan Morain notes, “[Jarvis] is part of the Republican establishment, almost always aligned with Chamber of Commerce and real estate interests, and often with tobacco, oil, gambling and other big businesses.” Of course, we don’t know exactly who funds Jarvis’ activities because they don’t have to tell us — but it’s a safe bet that elderly homeowners on fixed incomes didn’t fund the nearly $7 million that Jarvis raised in 2010.

Coupal’s blog post hits the nail on the head, however, when he notes that some politicians “are making war against regular folks, while assisting narrow, well-heeled, special interests to prosper.” That is exactly the aim of the “Stop Special Interests Now Act” — better described as the “Corporate Power Grab Act” — upon which Coupal lavishes his blatantly disingenuous, self-serving praise.

The “Stop Special Interest Money Now Act” purports to be a “simple, fair and balanced solution … limiting both corporate and union political giving.” The initiative’s proponents claim that the measure bans both corporate and union contributions to candidates, prohibits campaign contributions from government contractors, prohibits corporations and unions from collecting political funds from employees and members via voluntary payroll deduction, and makes all employee political contributions by any other means strictly voluntary, requiring annual written consent. Sounds fair and balanced, right?

Take a closer look: a giant loophole in the corporate power grab act will allow corporations to continue to make unlimited political contributions supporting or opposing candidates, without restrictions, and unlimited contributions to ballot measures — while silencing unions.

The measure says it will stop corporations and unions from collecting political funds through payroll deductions — but corporations almost never use payroll deductions to collect funds to support or oppose candidates or ballot measures; they use their corporate profits. Corporations already spend 15-times as much as unions spend on political contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Unions, of course, collect dues from members through payroll deduction to represent those members in bargaining, advocacy and politics.

That brings us back to Coupal. His real agenda behind backing this phony measure is pretty clear. If this measure were to pass, it would effectively silence the voice of working families while giving corporations free rein to exert even more influence over our political system. The huge loophole in the measure would allow corporations to spend without any limits using a web of shadowy front groups, big business associations and corporate Super PACs. Coupal and his corporate supporters know all too well that this measure won’t do anything to curb corporate influence on politics. It’s just common sense that Coupal wouldn’t support any sensible reforms that would strike at the heart of the real problem in politics: unchecked corporate power. What the measure would do is to make it virtually impossible for workers to speak with a collective voice to counterbalance corporate influence. Remember that 15-1 figure mentioned earlier. If Coupal and his big corporate allies succeed in passing this bogus measure, corporations will outspend unions by 1,000 to 1, if not more.

Coupal and his backers know all of this. Why won’t they just fess up to their true motives?

There is only one answer to that question: it’s simply a corporate power grab. Unions fight for fair wages and benefits, for workplace safety, for smaller class size in our schools, for better health care for our children and senior citizens, and to keep our communities safe with adequate police and fire protection. Most of these battles occur in city council or county supervisor chambers, in school board rooms, in the state Legislature or through initiatives on the ballot. If working people with middle class values are eliminated from the political arena, large corporations and business interests will have free rein to do whatever they want to grow their profits.

That would be good news for Jon Coupal and the corporate giants who fund him to do their bidding. But it would be a disaster for California’s middle class.

Brian Brokaw is communications director at the Alliance for a Better California.This article originally appeared on the California Labor Federation blog Labor’s Edge.

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