Gage Skidmore; Creative Commons via Flickr
An indecent proposal

Chantal Lovell

Communications Director

Chantal Lovell
October 1, 2021

An indecent proposal

When reflecting on Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent recall victory, a friend of the California Policy Center reminded me of a scene in the film Indecent Proposal.

Woody Harrelson’s character had just been left by the love of his life, who’d run off with another man. Before handing divorce papers over to his soon-to-be ex, played by Demi Moore, Harrelson made an astute observation: He’d not lost her to a better man, just one with more money. 

It would be easy to look at Newsom’s win as a rejection of the massive, grassroots movement that put him up for recall in the first place, or use it to dismiss citizen initiatives altogether. But, a closer look suggests Newsom’s win may have less to do with his ideas and even the job he’s done as governor, and more to do with money.  

In his case, a lot more. 

In total, Newsom and the various committees working to protect him from recall brought in just shy of $80 million. Together, Newsom’s opponents raised just around $45 million, though the leading contender, Larry Elder, campaigned with around $15.675 million. 

Over $11.5 million of Newsom’s support came from government unions, and he received another $4.4 million from unions representing both public- and private-sector workers. Time and again, we saw government unions kick money collected through membership dues to Newsom during the recall cycle, and in exchange, receive nice payoffs. 

With a contribution of over $1.8 million, the California Teachers Association was Newsom’s top government union supporter, though gifts from other education unions brought the support from public school employees nearly $2.5 million. One could easily argue Newsom is repaying these donors in the best way he can: by supporting their vehement demands that all students be masked at school, and issuing the nation’s first, statewide mandate requiring eligible students be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association’s $1.75 million contribution is paying enviable dividends. Despite the Legislative Analyst’s Office determining the raises lacked “clear justification,” and a compensation study finding California guards receive 40% higher compensation than their counterparts in local government, Newsom signed off on $5,000 raises and 12 days worth of wellness relief time for prison guards. Now, Newsom and his administration are actively fighting to exempt prison guards from his sweeping vaccine mandate for state workers. 

The Service Employees International Union Local 1000 — California’s largest public-sector union — gave the governor $1 million to fight the recall attempt, and one can only assume it was a thank-you gift for the pay hikes the members received this summer. In addition to Newsom’s administration restoring the 9.23% pay cuts the union members (like other government workers) took during the height of the COVID work stoppages, members will receive an additional 4.55% pay increase moving forward.

Quid pro quos like these are arrangements as old as rich men sweeping opportunistic women off their feet. Public-sector unions elect politicians, who once in office, hold incredible power to return the favor. While many Americans are rightly concerned about preserving or restoring integrity to our election process, government unions are buying politicians in broad daylight and stealing away one election after another.

Truly, an indecent proposal. 

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correctly state Larry Elder raised $15.675 million. An earlier version inaccurately stated he raised $20 million. The total for the Newsom’s opponents is now changed from “just shy of $50 million” to “just around $45 million.”

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