PROP. 226



U.S. Senate



Secretary of State



Attorney General

Insurance Commissioner

Superintendent of Public Instruction

Board of Equalization


Prop 219
Prop 220
Prop 221
Prop 222
Prop 223
Prop 224
Prop 225
Prop 226
Prop 227


Districts 1 - 26
Districts 27 - 52


Districts 2 - 40

Districts 1 - 20
Districts 21 - 40
Districts 41 - 60
Districts 61 - 80

Background | Proposal | Arguments for | Arguments against

An initiative requiring that all employees must annually give their permission to labor unions and employers before their dues or wages can be used for political activities.

For most of the last several decades, political contributions at the national, state, and local levels have followed a predictable, some would say comfortable, pattern: Big business goes Republican, big labor goes Democratic. When it contributes money, business simply allocates from its corporate revenue. Labor gains its financial clout through its collection and use of union dues. By and large, members don't control how their dues are spent, although California law does allow a union member to request that their dues not be used for political activities. In the 1990s, labor has become more sophisticated in how it has wielded political clout. In 1995, a school voucher initiative was defeated in large part because of an expensive opposition campaign financed by the California Teachers Association, financing derived from a special dues assessment. The CTA also killed an initiative backed by Governor Pete Wilson which would have given him broader control over the state budget process, and has run issue advertising against Wilson during several budget fights. In all cases, funding for these campaigns came from union dues. In 1996, a labor-backed independent expenditure campaign, estimated at between $30 million and $60 million, sought to return control of the Congress to Democrats. While the national objective failed, the California Assembly, which had been Republican, returned to Democratic hands. Republicans denounced the "labor bosses" who organized the campaign, claiming members' dues were against their will for these political efforts. When a trio of Orange County Republican activists who had also been involved in voucher campaigns, decided to run an initiative requiring a "check-off" before union dues could be diverted to political campaigns, it quickly became the national GOP's top priority in the area of "campaign reform." Wilson - oft burned by labor-sponsored campaigns - became the measure's statewide chairman. Conspicuously absent from the effort, either in planning or its execution, is the business community. The California Chamber of Commerce and many of the state's top corporations have remained neutral to this point, saying they don't want to engender backlash at contract time from the unions who represent their employees. (For more detail on the politics of the initiative, see "Wilson vs. Labor," California Journal, February, 1998.)

Proposition 226 requires that employers and labor unions receive written annual permission from employees and union members before using any payroll deduction for political purposes. The initiative requires that a specific form be used to obtain that permission, the form itself to be developed by the state Fair Political Practices Commission. Although it includes employers, the bulk of the effect of this provision will be felt by labor unions. The initiative also enacts into state law the federal ban on acceptance of campaign contributions from a foreign national.

Arguments For:
The measure's sponsor, the California Foundation for Campaign Reform, is joined by Governor Pete Wilson, former Vice President Dan Quayle, school voucher advocate J. Patrick Rooney, the California Republican Party, and a host of GOP officeholders. They contend Proposition 226 is a "paycheck protection" act for union members. They argue most union members have their dues diverted to political activity without their knowledge or consent. They contend that if given the option to choose, many union members would opt out because they don't like what their leaders are doing. While conceding the reduction of labor's influence in elections would be a by-product of the measure, backers insist their intent was not to debilitate labor, and that unions would still be able to participate politically, if their members acquiesce through the checkoff.

Arguments Against:
Opponents include virtually all of organized labor, with the opposition being led by the California Teachers Association, the California Professional Firefighters, and the California Labor Federation. Also opposing is the Congress of California Seniors and the California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG). These groups contend the measure's real intent is to keep workers and their agents in organized labor from having any meaningful influence on the political process. They contend business political contributions already outweigh labor contributions by a 10-to-1 ratio, and it would disappear altogether under this measure. Opponents suggest the real motivation behind this initiative comes from out of state interests, including voucher supporters who are eyeing another run at the issue in California. They further contend Wilson's support is political payback aimed at the teachers unions for their activism against his budget policies.

-- Article by Steve Scott

This page first published May 5, 1998

Last updated May 25, 1998

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