As we wind down the year, those of us who pay attention to state politics are breathing a sigh of relief that the state legislature is no longer in session and working on ways to shape our state into the corporatocracy the Republicans so desperately want it to be. However, before they left Lansing for the year, they passed three pieces of legislation that go the extra mile toward making your vote as meaningless as possible.
First, as I have written about already, they passed legislation that eliminates your option of voting a straight ticket on the ballot. Brian Dickerson at The Detroit Free Press wrote a scathing op-ed this week detailing just how disgusting the process was that resulted in the Senate Bill 13. The Senate was done with its business and ready to head home for the year when Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter convinced them to stick around so they could pass SB 13:
So instead of calling it a night, the senate majority leader called a recess.
Even to observers whose expectations of Michigan politics have been diminished by decades of exposure to Michigan politicians, the audacity of what followed was impressive.
For 5½ hours, Republican state legislators personified the government they have spent the last several years warning us about: arrogant, contemptuous of its own rules, indifferent to public opinion and focused single-mindedly on the preservation of its own political power.
When the GOP juggernaut had run its course, Michigan voters had forfeited a privilege they have twice voted to protect, and a bipartisan effort to expand absentee voting had been squashed.
The anonymous third-party donors who bankroll most political campaigns had strengthened their grip on state elections, and the governor who has made transparency his mantra was poised to become just the latest poster boy for partisan hypocrisy.
SB 13 will cause longer lines, more spoiled ballots, and has the real potential to diminish voter turnout, particularly in urban areas which are strongholds for Democrats. In other words, it does exactly what Republicans want it to do while they lie to reporters about their sincere desire for voters to be more informed.
That faux sincere desire for voters to be more informed was proven to be the lie that it is when they passed Senate Bill 571. This bill bans using public dollars or resources to educate the public about ballot proposals in the 60 days before an election. The bill has drawn outrage and scorn from all directions. The Michigan League of Women Voters calls it a bill that “includes provisions that block access to unbiased, objective communication on ballot proposals to local residents”, saying that they are “very concerned about the limits that will be imposed on our mission to educate the public if this bill” becomes law.
This bill, too, was a result of some epically shitty Republican machinations. More from Brian Dickerson at the Free Press:
When Lyons’ committee voted unanimously to recommend its passage a week ago, SB 571 was a 12-page bill that reduced paperwork, but not disclosure requirements, for political action committees across the state. It had breezed through the state Senate with nary an objection from lawmakers of either party.
But when it emerged from a Republican caucus room Wednesday evening, SB 571 had metastasized into a 53-page behemoth that included GOP-friendly amendments to 10 different sections of Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act. It was adopted by both houses late Wednesday night without a single Democratic vote or amendment, and after the Republican majority voted to clear the Senate chamber of Democratic staffers and lock the senators themselves inside.
After hearing from State Representative Gretchen Driskell, the Saline City Council sent at letter to Gov. Snyder urging him to veto the bill:
Driskell said that SB 571 was a 12-page bill that grew into a 53-page bill in 10 minutes.
“We (Democratic legislators) had to pull our names off the bill because we didn’t know what was in it,” Driskell said.
She said legislators learned the proposal will prevent local governments, school boards and library boards from providing information about bond and millage proposals.
“It’s a huge problem when you’re working on a local project. Citizens need to know what’s going on,” Driskell said. “We tried to the block the bill but the rules were suspended and we weren’t able.”
Even librarians (LIBRARIANS!) are up in arms and it takes a LOT to get librarians to speak out on political issues. They have started a petition asking Gov. Snyder to veto the legislation:
The Michigan House and Senate pulled a fast one last week and Governor Snyder needs to do the right thing for libraries, schools, and parks by Vetoing SB 571. If SB 571 becomes law, librarians would be sent to jail for sharing factual information about elections with their communities. Library boards would be fined thousands of dollars of sending out a newsletter if it shares information about what is on your local ballot. We need honest and transparent elections. SB 571 is ridiculous. It is both anti- free speech and anti- good government. Don’t let the politicians in Lansing force librarians to hide information about what is on your ballot! Join thousands of citizens from around Michigan and tell Governor Snyder to Veto SB 571 because information needs to be free by signing the petition today.
But that’s not all SB 571 does. It also eliminates the February campaign finance reporting requirement and allows independent expenditures to remain secret until AFTER the election. Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network spells it out:
In the case of regularly scheduled elections, independent expenditures that occur subsequent to the last scheduled pre-election report do not have to be disclosed until the first regularly scheduled post-election report.
In the case of Michigan’s 2014 November elections, millions of dollars-worth of independent expenditures were first disclosed months after Election Day.
And, finally, just to be sure that the information that you ARE able to get before an election is as corporate-friendly as possible, Republicans passed Senate Bill 638. They claim it simply “codifies” the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling into Michigan law. However, it does much more and much worse than that:
Democrats say the bill not only codifies “Citizens United” – it expands it.
“This bill firmly points Michigan in the wrong direction towards a future of dark money and convoluted electoral processes,” said state Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, in an uncharacteristically impassioned speech on the Senate floor.
“These bills will expand the loopholes in Michigan’s already dated campaign finance laws and would allow Super PACs to get involved with the referendums and ballot initiatives and continue to control this process,” said state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing.
According to the Michigan League of Women Voters, “SB 638 would essentially wipe out almost any barriers between a candidate for office and a SuperPAC (Political Action Committee) that may be prepared to spend millions in support of its goals.”
So, let’s say a cheer for the end of the year and an end to the destruction of democracy in our state by the bought-and-paid-for corporate stooges that control our state legislature now. Any suggestion that eliminating straight ticket voting in Michigan is motivated by a desire for Michigan voters to be “more informed” when they vote has clearly been demonstrated BY THE ACTIONS OF THE REPUBLICANS THEMSELVES to be a farce, an unmitigated lie. They want it as hard as possible for you to vote, especially if you are a Democrat. And, when they DO vote, they want voters to know as little as possible about the people and ballot proposals they are voting for. Finally, they want the information that you ARE able to receive to come largely from corporate and other special interests who don’t have to reveal their involvement until AFTER you have voted.
This is the stuff of futuristic dystopian science fiction novels and it’s happening right here before our very eyes in Michigan.