In his Sept. 15 guest column (Prop. 32 would tip the balance in favor of the wealthy) Leonard McNeil argues that California is dominated by "monied interest." He identifies the "monied interest" as "wealthy individuals and corporations."
McNeil is correct that the political system in California is dominated by "monied interest," but those "monied interests" are public sector unions. I have five points.
First, California Watch, journalism partner of this paper, has reported on the Top 100 contributors to California politics from 2001 to 2011. The California Teachers Association tops the list with $118 million.
Public sector unions together contributed $285 million, far more than the second biggest industry, Indian casinos, which contributed $233 million. The energy industry was third with contributions of $200 million, followed by the pharmacology industry at $128 million. Other industries fall far from this level of funding, providing $10 million or less.
Secondly, California Public Policy Institute's Project Union reports that public sector unions collect between $1.1 billion and $2 billion per year in union dues, all of which is used to influence government decisions.
Funds collected as dues are given directly to politicians as contributions, used to hire lobbyists, fund independent expenditure campaigns, and/or are used to pursue their union agenda through negotiation, litigation, education or other means. The money has no other purpose.
Third, public sectors unions also use what is known as "release time" or "official time" to influence elected officials in California. Union representatives are on government payrolls but use "release time" to lobby officials, organize employees, and disseminate union information.
The Office of Personnel Management (federal government) recently reported that federal employees spent more than 3 million hours on "official time" in 2010, costing the taxpayers $137 million in salary and benefits costs.
We have no estimate in California (we should know), but know the costs are high across all government entities.
Fourth, public sector pensions are the latest government/Wall Street-created financial bubble. The financial sector ("Wall Street") supports large public sector pensions and is not in favor of Proposition 32.
Why? The pensions invest their retirement funds through Wall Street firms.
According to state Controller John Chiang, there are 131 public sector pension funds in California with assets as much as $596.1 billion, with CalPERS and CalSTRS, the largest, holding $390.9 billion of those assets. These assets are stocks, bonds, "private equities," real estate related holdings, etc. invested through Wall Street companies.
CalPERS itself earns $235 million per year in investment fees. "Wall Street" does not want to see this cash cow go away.
Finally, look at the funding of the supporters and opponents to Proposition 32. As of Oct. 1, the opposition to the proposition, public sector unions, has contributed more than $45.6 million to fund its opposition; the Proposition 32 supporters have raised $9 million. Who do you think are the "monied interests"?
Vote yes on Proposition 32 and return California government to the people.
Hal Bray is a resident of Brentwood.