Unions and ‘Identity Theft’ in California

by James Sherk

Have you heard that signing a ballot initiative could put you at risk for identity theft? If you live in California, a brand new non-profit — Californians Against Identity Theft — wants you to know.

The group is running radio ads warning that felons could steal the information given to signature gatherers. In the ads, a husband warns his wife that, because she signed an initiative, they “really need to watch our bank statements and credit information.”

If this comes as a surprise to you, you are not alone. Identity theft activists have never heard of this happening either. They say the group’s warnings are completely false.

In the words of Pedro Morillas, the legislative director for the California Public Interest Research Group, “There is as much risk of identity theft involved in signing a petition as there is in being listed in the phone book.”

So who is paying Californians Against Identity Theft to mislead California’s voters?

California’s union movement.

Reporters discovered that the domain name of the group’s website was registered at the same address as the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. Trades Council president Bob Balgenorth subsequently admitted that his union had helped fund the campaign.

Why would unions want to scare voters out of signing ballot initiatives? Probably because they oppose many of the proposals that Californians could vote on. The California secretary of state’s office lists the petitions cleared for circulation. Many of them are not to the union movement’s liking. They include:

• Requiring unions to get their members’ permission before spending dues on political campaigns (i.e., paycheck protection);

• Guaranteeing the right of workers to vote in a secret ballot election (not public card-check) before joining a union; and

• Raising the retirement age for state employees to 62 (from 55) while giving state and local government the authority to modify government pension benefits.

Unions hate these proposals. However, they know that they will be tough to beat at the ballot box. Overwhelming majorities of union members say it is unreasonable that unions spend their dues on politics without their consent. So rather than debate the issues openly, they are trying to scare Californians out of putting these measures to a vote.

Hopefully they will fail. Then Californians can decide whether unions should need their members’ permission to spend money on political campaigns — especially deceptive campaigns like Californians Against Identity Theft.

— James Sherk is senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation.

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