California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has certified the first initiative to qualify for the November 6, 2012, ballot.  If it is approved by voters, the initiative–known by proponents as “Paycheck Protection” and opponents as “Paycheck Deception”–would restrict political fundraising by prohibiting use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes.

It’s time to set the record straight on the origins of this deceptive ballot measure, which traces its history to anti-tax crusader, and Republican insider, Grover Norquist.

In the late 1990s, Norquist and his DC-based Americans for Tax Reform organization backed several conservative initiatives on statewide ballots, including so-called paycheck “protection” measures. The major source of his funding for his efforts, it was later revealed,was the Republican National Party.  In 1993, Norquist had authored a mock policy memo (fictitiously dated “November 9, 1996”) addressed to “Republican Congressional Leaders.”  His fictitious memo detailed the GOP’s hard won “success” in the 1996 elections.  Noting the electoral power of initiatives, Norquist wrote, “I believe the wave of initiative elections in 1992 and 1994 paved the way for Republican electoral victories this year [1996].”  He highlighted how initiatives limiting legislative terms, cutting taxes and government spending, as well as anti-crime, victims rights, and parental rights ballot measures, brought fiscal and “social conservative Republican voters to the polls.”

Republican leaders apparently were convinced by Norquist’s electoral prediction.  In October 1996, the Republican National Committee (RNC) quietly contributed $4.6 million in soft money to ATR to promote federal candidates by broadcasting issue ads. While Norquist’s nonprofit did not have to disclose its subsequent expenditures, a congressional investigation (Minority Report) into campaign finance abuses in the 1990s found that ATR acted “as an alter ego of the Republican National Committee [RNC] in promoting the Republican agenda and Republican candidates, while shielding itself and its contributors from the accountability required of campaign organizations.”

Norquist’s ATR subsequently funneled a substantial amount of the RNC money to issue groups in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Nevada that were sponsoring paycheck protection ballot measures.

For example, in 1998, ATR was a major contributor to the sponsors of Oregon’s Measure 26, a paycheck “protection” initiative that qualified for Oregon’s November, 1998 ballot.  ATR also helped to finance paycheck “deception” measures in Nevada and Colorado, but they were stymied by the courts in Nevada and stalled by a union-led counterproposition in Colorado.

Earlier in 1998, Norquist’s ATR successfully spearheaded the financing of a California ballot measure designed specifically to weaken organized labor. During the crucial petition gathering phase of the campaign, ATR transferred $441,000 to the Campaign Reform Initiative in California, one of four issue committees advocating Proposition 226, a paycheck “protection” measure.  In the end, California voters defeated the measure at the polls, in large part because labor unions spent over $23 million fighting the June 1998 primary initiative.

Rather than paycheck protection, the history of these ballot measures is steeped in deception.

For more background on paycheck “protection”/”deception” ballot measures, see Daniel A. Smith. 2004. “Peeling Away the Populist Rhetoric: Toward a Taxonomy of Anti-Tax Ballot Initiatives,” Public Budgeting and Finance 24 (4): 88-110, and Elizabeth Garrett and Daniel A. Smith. 2005. “Veiled Political Actors and Campaign Disclosure Laws in Direct Democracy,” Election Law Journal 4 (4) 295-328.