Only in Republicanland is this a good idea
This is week in a somewhat surprising move, Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson proposed a rule to require transparency in the funding of so-called “issue ads” that don’t promote specific candidates. Millions and millions of dollars are spent every election cycle on these ads which are, more often than not, nothing more than thinly-veiled ads for one candidate over another.
Republicans in the Senate were having none of it, however, and quickly amended a “campaign finance reform” bill, Senate Bill 661, to quash her move. The original bill, which actually DOUBLES the amount of money that can be given to candidates or political party caucuses in exchange for additional reporting requirements was changed to exempt “expenditure[s] for communication on a subject or issue if the communication does not support or oppose a ballot question or candidate by name or clear inference.” This language was not in the original bill.
So, not only are they INCREASING the amount of money in our elections by a factor of two, they are keeping much of it hidden.
Because that’s how Michigan Republicans roll.
They passed the revised bill on Thursday with immediate effect and sent it to the House.
Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer excoriated the Republicans for this hideous and damaging step backwards in campaign finance reform:
Only Michigan Republicans could be so out of touch with the people to think that we need more money in state politics. Republicans’ greed and selfishness know no bounds, and this is an unabashed effort to increase the political money given—and in turn, the influence wielded—by wealthy special interests. We have already seen groups like Americans for Prosperity and ALEC run amok using money to bend Michigan Republicans from the Legislature to the Governor’s office to their will, and it is completely disgusting that Senate Republicans want to open the floodgates more just to pad their campaign accounts. Even Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, whose boss is embroiled in his own campaign finance controversy with the NERD Fund, joined the fray in voting down amendments that would have improved transparency and disclosure.
This era of ‘dark money’ politics started under former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and has turned Michigan into one of the least transparent states in the nation. This bill is clearly more about the Republicans’ desire to protect themselves and their weak Senate candidate than it is with making our elected officials more accountable to the people of Michigan. Michigan’s average citizens have already had their voices ignored, and now the power of their pocketbooks is being diluted as well in favor of the rich and powerful.
She nailed it. Republicans know full well that, without their effective gerrymandering of our districts and the influx of insane levels of secret funding for their candidates and issues, they could never win elections. Their ideas are counter to what most Americans think of as free and open elections and the concept of democracy itself.
UPDATE: A couple of things. First, the Detroit Free Press editorial board also took the Republican move to put MORE SECRET MONEY into our elections to task in an editorial titled “Republican legislators once again dancing to dark money’s tune”:
If you’ve wondering who’s bankrolling your elected representatives in Lansing and what they expect in return for their money, Republicans state lawmakers want you to understand one thing:
It’s none of your damned business.
That’s the implicit message in a bill adopted by the GOP-controlled state Senate on Thursday that would exempt the donors responsible for some of the most negative advertising aired in Michigan from having to disclose their identities. [...]
The GOP Senate’s message to voters could not be more cynical: Want to be a player in formulating government policy? Then pony up tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for TV attack ads that can’t be traced to the candidates they benefit, and Republican legislative leaders will take care of you — and protect your anonymity, too!
Can’t afford to compete under new, more liberal contribution limits designed to let the wealthiest donors give even more? Then shut up, sit down, and don’t ask impolite questions about who’s bankrolling your elected representatives in Lansing.
Such arrogant contempt for voters has no place in a democracy.
Meekhof’s bill is an insult to Secretary of State Johnson’s efforts to force greater public disclosure. The Republican House and Gov. Snyder must either reject it or concede that they, too, are dancing to dark money’s tune.
Second, lest you think Ruth Johnson has turned over a new leaf and now suddenly supports true campaign finance reform, don’t get too excited. This week she also rebuffed a request by the State Bar of Michigan to reverse a rule that Terri Lynn Land put in place when she was Secretary of State that exempts most of the money spent on judicial campaigns — the state Supreme Court, for example — from disclosure laws.
Her reasoning? You won’t believe this: because it would exceed her authority as Secretary of State to reverse the ruling of a former Secretary of State.
There is nothing in the Michigan Campaign Finance Act that would allow the Department to create a special carve-out exception for judicial candidates alone.
Yeah, I don’t get it either. Apparently Terri Lynn Land felt otherwise.
[Photos by Anne Savage, special to Eclectablog]