LOS ANGELES (AP) -- California voters reaffirmed their support for unions in defeating a provision that would have banned the way labor traditionally raises money to fund political activity.
The defeat of Proposition 32 became clear early Wednesday. With 75 percent of precincts reporting, Californians voted 55 percent against the measure, compared to 45 percent in support.
Following up on recent efforts to dilute the strength of unions in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere, business interests and wealthy Republicans had contributed tens of millions of dollars to pass Proposition 32. California's major labor groups responded with equal force, spending at least $75 million to defeat it.
"By soundly rejecting Proposition 32, the voters of our state said no to a deceptive initiative written by wealthy special interests, for wealthy special interests," Lou Paulson, chairman of the No on Prop 32 campaign, said in a statement.
Across the country, government workers have been facing political pressure to roll back pension and retiree health care benefits that in many cases are much more generous than those received by their private-sector counterparts and are straining state and municipal budgets.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a right-to-work law in February banning unions from collecting mandatory fees for representation, and labor suffered a defeat in Wisconsin earlier this year when Republican Gov. Scott Walker defeated a recall challenge following his push to limit collective bargaining rights for most public workers.
Proposition 32 would have prohibited corporations and unions from collecting money for state political activities through paycheck deductions. It would have hit unions hardest because corporations do not typically deduct money from employee pay for political activities.
California voters rejected similar ballot questions in 2005 and 1998.
The initiative would have gone further by prohibiting unions and corporations from making donations directly to state candidates. It would not stop corporations, the wealthy or unions from spending unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns through so-called independent expenditure committees.
The money collected from union members has helped make teachers, prison guards and nurses among the most powerful interest groups in Sacramento. They overwhelmingly support Democrats, who control both chambers of the Legislature and every statewide office.
While labor led the No on Prop. 32 fight, businesses and wealthy Republicans funded the opposing campaign.
Prominent supporters include Stanford physicist Charles Munger Jr., the son of billionaire Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Vice Chairman Charles Munger, who has donated more than $10 million, and former Univision chief executive Jerry Perenchio, a frequent Republican donor, who has given $800,000.
More than $4 million came from the American Future Fund, an Iowa-based organization that supports conservative causes with ties to billionaires Charles and David Koch, who have provided crucial support to the tea party.
Other contributions have been more mysterious. The Fair Political Practices Commission filed a successful lawsuit seeking the records of the Phoenix-based Americans for Responsible Leadership after the group made an $11 million contribution to the Small Business Action Committee PAC. The political action committee is supporting a dual campaign to pass Proposition 32 and defeat Gov. Jerry Brown's November tax initiative.
The lawsuit revealed that a secondary group, again with ties to the Koch brothers, was behind some of the out-of-state money.
Art Pulaski, executive-secretary treasurer of the California Labor Federation, which represents more than 2 million members, said the rejection of Proposition 32 represents a victory against right-wing billionaires trying to influence California voters.
"Now that we know that the Koch brothers are behind it, even though they don't admit it, we want to let them know they can't dismantle the democratic voice," Pulaski said in an interview.
Supporters had described Proposition 32 as a cure-all for special-interest politics by prohibiting corporations and unions from making donations directly to state candidates. Email and telephone messages left for the campaign weren't immediately returned early Wednesday.