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Subsidizing Discrimination

September 16, 1987

Private clubs can legitimately decide who may-- and who may not --belong to them. That is a matter of club privilege. But when the privileged deduct from their state taxes their business expenses at clubs that discriminate, it means asking all California taxpayers to contribute something to their privilege. That is unfair.

Gov. George Deukmejian should make the tax breaks illegal by signing a bill, AB 239, that would prohibit deductions for initiation fees, memberships, meals, drinks and other business expenses at clubs that discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion, age, color, ancestry or national origin. That is fair.

The measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles), would also broaden the protections imposed by the California Franchise Tax Board. In June the board approved similar prohibitions, which have been upheld by the state Office of Administrative Law. But the state regulations, which will take effect next year, lack the authority and the permanence of state law.

Some clubs have needed neither the threat of regulation nor law to open their doors to women, Latinos, Asians and white men who had been excluded because of religion, ethnicity or national origin. Other male sanctuaries have responded, and only reluctantly, to pressure from recent local laws, including an ordinance that bans discrimination at the larger private clubs in Los Angeles.

Under the new measure, private clubs would need to make no changes. They could continue to choose those who could belong, who could get served and who could play on the tennis courts, on the golf course or in the swimming pool. The chosen few could continue to socialize with whomever they want. Business discussions and deal-making could go on as usual, but not at some expense to every taxpayer.

Taxpayers who object to discrimination should not have to subsidize it. Taxpayers who are the object of discrimination should not have to underwrite it. Deukmejian should sign AB 239 and end the subsidy of private clubs that discriminate.

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