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Labor's Edge: Views from the California Labor Movement

Small Business Action Committee: The Latest Shady Front Group Throwing Millions Behind Prop 32

By Rebecca Band, California Labor Federation

Not surprisingly, the deceptively named “Stop Special Interest Money” Act is now being funded by an equally deceptively named front group, the Small Business Action Committee (SBAC), which has dropped millions into Prop 32, the ballot measure that leading newspapers call “a fraud,” “a cynical ploy” and “a deceptive sham”  because it would silence the voices of workers while giving corporate special interests even more power and influence.

The average voter might very well assume SBAC is actually made up of small businesses. But if you visit their website, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any reference to a single real-life small business. If you read their “Small Business Heroes” section, you’ll find a laundry list of Republican political flacks and right-wing ideologues – but you won’t find a single local business owner or mom-and-pop shop. In fact, there’s no mention of any actual small businesses anywhere on their website.

And it gets even more bizarre. The self-described “committee” boasts a leadership team of just one person – Joel Fox, former head of the notoriously right-wing Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and current editor of an ultra-conservative blog, Fox & Hounds. The SBAC website provides no office phone number or physical address – they don’t even have an email address. There is no list of board members or businesses that are part of this “committee,” and no contact information for anyone at the organization whatsoever.

And – no surprise here – since they’re technically an “issue advocacy” group, they are actually already exempt from disclosure requirements that cover campaign advertising (and they still will be if Prop 32 passes). That means we really don’t know everyone who’s contributed to their phony front group – but we do know that they have already raised at least $21,843,970 this election cycle, most of it coming from just a handful of exceedingly rich and greedy billionaires, including:

  • $19,949,560 from Charles Munger Jr., who’s given millions to the state and county Republican parties, and also bankrolls a California Super PAC called “Spirit of Democracy.” Munger has spent more than $22 million on California elections in recent years, and would still be able to do so if Prop 32 passes.
  • $550,000 from retired Univision CEO Jerrold Perenchio, another one of the largest individual donors in California politics. He’s also the Founder and Chair of Chatwell Partners LLC, an investment firm that would be exempt from Proposition 32.
  • $350,000 from the New Majority PAC, which would in itself be exempt, and its contributors, which include real estate developers, hedge fund managers, venture capitalists, wealthy individuals and other major contributors, would also be exempt under Prop 32
  • $300,000 from private equity manager John Murray Pasquesi, whose Otter Capital LLC would be exempt under Prop 32
  • $1,000,000 from hedge fund executive William Oberndorf,  who has given almost a million to the California Republican Party in recent years. He’s also the head of two large companies that are exempt from Proposition 32.

Notice a trend? As it turns out, all of SBAC’s biggest backers would be conveniently exempt from this so-called “reform.” So when you hear a radio ad paid for by SBAC that claims “special interests and corporations hate Prop 32,” you really ought to take it with a very large grain of salt, because the most powerful business interests in the state are actually investing big money  in its passage. They don’t hate it – they embrace it, because they recognize that it would further empower them to buy our elections, while completely silencing the rest of us who choose to pool our money to have a voice in politics.

And this certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen SBAC playing high-stakes poker with our politics. In 2010, SBAC supported GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman – but only after Whitman bought in and gave the group $10,000 (her campaign expenditure report shows a payment of that amount for ‘print ads.’”). Then, they tried to bluff their way to victory with deceptive and misleading attack ads against Jerry Brown. When Calbuzz asked SBAC’s Joel Fox who paid for the ad, Fox refused to say, which doesn’t surprise us in the least. The whole reason why ultra-rich corporate special interests give to groups like SBAC is because they don’t have to disclose their donors.

The truth is, SBAC has been pushing an aggressive anti-worker agenda for as long as it’s been around. Ever since the “group” (and I use that term loosely) first started up in 2003, they’ve been steadfastly committed to fighting against any effort to help the working class. They’ll label just about any policy that protects workers’ rights as a “job killer”. They fight to protect the colossal property tax loopholes that are devastating California’s economy.  And they think eliminating “regulations” – like workplace safety laws and environmental protections – is the only way to add jobs.

Clearly, SBAC is little more than a mouth piece for the extremely rich and powerful corporate special interests that already dominate our state. Their involvement in the Yes on 32 campaign underscores what we’ve been saying for months – this measure is intentionally designed to confuse and trick voters into thinking they’re getting real reform, when all it really does is give more power to the powerful, and the rest of us would be left at the mercy of the corporations and billionaires.

Learn more about Prop 32.

Posted on 10/08/2012Permalink

More posts by Rebecca Band

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