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Prop. 32 supporters link unions to UC Davis pepper-spraying

October 29, 2012 |  5:04 pm

A little more than a week before election day, proponents of Proposition 32 are ratcheting up their rhetoric, linking union and corporate interests to a series of high-profile controversies, including the pepper-spraying of students at UC Davis.

The ballot measure would make major changes to California's campaign finance system, including banning the practice of political contribution by payroll deduction – the primary method labor unions use to raise political cash.

On Monday, the Yes on 32 campaign released a Web-only ad that features images of the pepper-sprayed protesters –- in addition to the burning homes of San Bruno and a former Los Angeles elementary school teacher accused of abusing his students. Set to a foreboding score, the ad then flashes a message: “Money in politics affects all of us.”

Some of the ties, however, are tenuous.

The images of a police officer spraying seated students in their faces is the backdrop for the claim that “Sacramento politicians” spend more on public employee pensions than higher education. “Can we blame our kids for protesting tuition hikes,” the spot asks.

Footage of the aftermath of the San Bruno gas explosion is used for the charge that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. gave more than $2 million in campaign contributions to “avoid regulations.” The company has yet to be fined for the 2010 catastrophe and the state Public Utility Commission has taken heat for how it selected a mediator. Lawmakers, however, pursued legislative action.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a series of bills that improved maintenance and oversight of the pipelines, required automatic shut-off valves in vulnerable areas and ensured that gas companies pressure-test transmission lines.

Finally, the ad says that California teachers unions spent millions to influence lawmakers to protect teachers like former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who was charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on children. L.A. Unified School District chose to pay Berndt $40,000 to retire rather than take him through a lengthy and costly dismissal process.

This year, lawmakers rejected legislation that would have sped the dismissal process for teachers who engaged in offenses involving sex, drugs or violence. Teachers unions opposed the bill, saying it was an attack on due process rights.

The Web ad comes as polls show Proposition 32 losing. A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of registered voters showed the measure trailing, with 39% supporting and 46% opposing.

Brian Brokaw, a spokesman for the labor-backed opposition campaign, dismissed the ad.

“The Yes on 32 campaign lost any semblance of credibility long ago,” he said, “so an over-the-top, ugly and exploitative video like this in the throes of a losing campaign is unfortunately par for the course.”


Unions raise nearly $10 million to fight Prop. 32

Good-government groups says Prop. 32 is deceptive

Bid to curb union spending gets big Democratic backer

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento