Click photo to enlarge

If Proposition 32 did what supporters claim -- limit all special-interest money from corrupting the political system -- we would race to endorse it. It doesn't. It is a deceptive sham that would magnify the influence of wealthy interests while shutting out those with competing views.

Proponents call this initiative "paycheck protection" because it bars the collection of union dues from paychecks for political purposes, even if union members give permission. Voters rejected attempts to do this in 1998 and 2005.

This time, the measure is much more cleverly framed to appear to limit political contributions from the wealthy and business interests, too. But as California Common Cause and the League of Women Voters said in a joint statement, "Proposition 32 claims to be 'political reform' but in reality was intentionally written to create special exemptions for billionaire businessmen and business special interests, giving them even more political power to write their own set of rules."

Here's how the scam works: It does ban corporations as well as unions from using paycheck deductions for political purposes, but corporations don't do that. Their political donations come straight from the treasury or from executives, which would still be allowed.

By contrast, paycheck deductions are the primary method California's 2.5 million union members use to fund political spending.

The measure would ban both unions and corporations from making direct donations to politicians. Leaving aside the question of whether that's constitutional, it wouldn't apply to large numbers of businesses, including real estate investment trusts and sole proprietorships. But it would apply to all unions.

The real elephant in the room for campaign reforms is super PACs, which can raise unlimited money, some anonymously, and which increasingly dominate political spending. Without paycheck deductions, unions would have a much more difficult time participating in elections, but billionaires and businesses could still spend freely. That is hardly fair.

Anyone who follows these pages knows we believe public-employee unions have far too much power in California politics. They use their political fundraising capabilities to leverage spineless politicians to direct more taxpayer money in their direction in the form of added, and often irresponsible, benefits. That must stop. Their power must be curtailed, but this is not the way to do it.

According to data compiled by the Center for Investigative Reporting and analyzed by San Francisco State professor John Logan, the top labor unions spent $284 million on initiatives, candidates and parties from 2001 to 2011.

But all together, the top contributors among the wealthy and business interests spent $931 million. If such massive spending is bad on one side (and it is), it is bad on both.

Indeed, some of the largest contributors to the Proposition 32 campaign are the same wealthy men who have spent millions to influence politics over the past decade.

We believe that California's fiscal future requires that it lessen the political influence of both public-employee unions and the wealthy. This proposition doesn't do that.

We need real and fair campaign finance reform. Proposition 32 would make a bad system worse. We urge a no vote.