Backers of Proposition 32 have argued repeatedly that the November ballot measure will reduce the influence of both corporations and unions in politics. Unions, however, have contended that Prop 32 will actually increase the power of corporations and wealthy contributors in California, because those donors will still be able to spend huge amounts of money, funding so-called Super PACs. A massive donation made last Friday to a new Super PAC that is backing Prop 32 proves that unions are right.
The $4 million donation came from the American Future Fund, a shadowy organization with close ties to the billionaire Koch Brothers. The ultra-conservative David and Charles Koch made their fortunes in natural gas and oil, and have not only bankrolled the national Tea Party movement and right-wing political candidates over the past few years, but also have poured hundreds of millions into anti-union efforts throughout the nation.
As such, the $4 million contribution in support of Prop 32 offers concrete proof that the Koch Brothers-linked group believes the ballot measure will severely damage the influence of labor in California politics — while doing little to infringe on the power of large corporations and wealthy donors.
The American Future Fund made the donation to a new Super PAC established to help pass Prop 32, called California Future Fund for Free Markets. The American Future Fund, itself, is a so-called Dark-Money group that doesn't have to reveal its funders before the election because it's a nonprofit. These secret groups, most of which are backed by right-wing organizations, have been spending tens of millions this year on elections throughout the country, trying to elect Republicans and defeat President Barack Obama.
The $4 million donation from the Koch Brothers-linked group also is evidence that it must be concerned that voters are now seeing Prop 32 for what it is — a sham. Just before the big donation was recorded with the California Secretary of State's Office, a new Pepperdine University poll revealed that voter support for the measure had dropped to 53 percent. Numerous good-government groups, including the League of Women Voters and California Common Cause, also oppose Prop 32.
The Amazon Loophole
On Saturday, Amazon.com began collecting sales taxes for the first time on Internet purchases made by California residents. The move, which Amazon battled for years, represented a major victory for brick-and-mortar retailers, particularly for owners of small, independent stores who correctly argued that Amazon's sales-tax exemption had awarded the online giant an unfair competitive advantage. However, there's a large loophole in the sales-tax deal that is allowing a substantial portion of products sold on Amazon.com to remain tax-free.
The Sacramento Bee reported that Amazon.com is not charging sales tax on items offered on its site by third-party sellers — the thousands of large and small retailers that use Amazon.com to market their goods. These third-party goods reportedly represent about 40 percent of the products sold on Amazon. As a result, many of the items will remain sales-tax free, meaning that Amazon.com will still maintain a competitive advantage over brick-and-mortar retailers on those products.
Amazon maintains that the big loophole is perfectly legal, and both the administration of Governor Jerry Brown and the California Retailers Association agree. "We couldn't attain perfect," Bill Dombrowski, president of the association, told the Bee, referring to the deal that the state struck with Amazon.
To close the loophole completely, retailers are working on a national bill — but that likely won't have much chance of passing as long as Republicans control the US House of Representatives. Still, even with the loophole, the state expects the new Amazon.com sales tax will generate about $158 million a year. That's good news, but Brown, legislative Democrats, and the California Retailers Association should have fully disclosed the loophole when they trumpeted the Amazon deal last year.
Prop 8 and Berkeley
When Edmond Heatley, the embattled finalist for Berkeley Unified superintendent of schools, withdrew his candidacy for the job earlier this week, it became abundantly clear that the Berkeley school board had failed to fully vet him. Berkeleyside was first to report last week the connections that Heatley — the sole finalist for the superintendent's position — had to a pro-Prop 8 resolution that passed during his helm as schools chief in Chino.
Chino school board President Michael Calta had maintained that the pro-Prop 8 resolution was his idea and that Heatley never endorsed it. However, it was also true that Heatley never opposed the anti-gay-marriage resolution and did nothing to try to stop it.
As a result, Heatley's failure to either publicly oppose the measure or at least attempt to persuade the Chino school board to remain neutral on Prop 8 — as many California school boards had done — surely meant that students of same-sex couples in his district must have felt the ugly hand of bigotry when their elected officials voted to effectively condemn their parents' sexual orientation. As such, it seems obvious that Heatley lacks the courage and the cultural sensitivity needed to lead a diverse school district like Berkeley's.
Cops' Union Tries to Intervene
The Oakland police union is attempting to intervene in a court process that could lead to OPD becoming the first department in the nation to be put in federal receivership. Attorney Michael Rains, who represents the union, is asserting in court papers that the union should be involved because a federal receiver likely would have the power to discipline cops involved in misconduct.
John Burris and Jim Chanin, who represented the victims of the rogue Oakland cops known as The Riders and who are now pushing for federal receivership, oppose the Oakland police union's attempts to intervene. And if past rulings are any indication, federal Judge Thelton Henderson, who oversees the court process, may agree with Burris and Chanin. In a court ruling last month, Henderson reiterated his stance that the police union has only limited standing in the matter, because it was not a party to the original court-approved settlement between the City of Oakland and The Riders' victims.