campaign finance

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The amount of money candidates in Michigan can get from special interest groups could get cut in half. That’s if a proposed bill finds its way through the legislature.

Currently these groups are allowed to donate ten times the amount of money an individual can. If the bill sponsored by State Representative Martin Howrylak  is passed, the donation limit would be reduced to five times the amount individuals can donate.

Craig Mauger is with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a nonpartisan organization.     

A protestor calls for campaign finance reform during the 2011 Occupy Boston movement
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As you watch the political conventions and decide which candidates will get your vote, here's something you'll want to think about: Who helped to pay for all of that campaigning? And what happens when that newly elected or re-elected member of Congress gets back to Washington?

According to the group Issue One, members of Congress spend more than half of their time raising money, not governing.

And in 2010, just .26% of the population accounted for over two-thirds of contributions to congressional campaigns.

How can we fix America's campaign finance system?

Thetoad / Flickr -

A federal judge says a Michigan law that takes aim at political fundraising by unions violates the constitution.

The law says unions cannot use payroll deductions to collect donations to a union political action committee. The law still allows businesses to use payroll deductions for donations to corporate political committees.


Andrew Nickelhoff is a union attorney. He says that goes against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Lindsey Scullen/Michigan Radio

One Well Brewing in Kalamazoo opened its doors Tuesday night for Michigan Radio’s latest rendition of Issues & Ale, our community conversation event series.

For the second time this summer, Michigan Radio and the Center for Michigan met up with listeners to discuss why trust in government is eroding in our state – and how that trust might be restored.

Jodi Westrick/Michigan Radio

On Tuesday, we sipped Brewery Becker’s “historic” ales and lagers while discussing a similarly historic topic: public trust in state government.

The Flint water crisis, gerrymandering, term limits, campaign money and more were on the minds of audience members and panelists at our Issues & Ale event.

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A Washington D.C. group has filed a complaint against a Michigan non-profit for its political spending.

Citizens for Responsible Ethics, or CREW, filed a complaint with the IRS against Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility. 

Jordan Libowitz is with CREW. He says Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility failed to report  $290,000 in political spending in 2014.  He says that violates the group's non-profit status.

"So we're seeing a disturbing trend with more and more groups trying to get away with this because they think they can," Libowitz says.

The Mulholland brothers ran an $18 million Ponzi scheme, the AG says
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A non-profit watchdog group says the person who signed a new law doubling campaign contributions was the one who ended up benefiting the most.

In December, 2013, Governor Rick Snyder signed a law that doubles the amount an individual can donate to a statewide election from $3,400 to $6,800.  The law also doubles the amount a political action committee can donate from $34,000 to $68,000.

Jack Lessenberry
Michigan Radio

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack explained some controversial bills on their way to Governor Rick Snyder's desk, how Flint wants to start shutting off water to people who haven't paid their bills, and how Michigan may still lose congressional seats despite a slight rise in population. 

These 14 states were in the bottom of the rankings. Michigan was ranked the worst.
Center for Public Integrity

Fiftieth out of fifty states.

That's where Michigan ranks in a report released today by the Center for Public Integrity.

The last time we wrote about this, Michigan ranked 43rd out of 50. 

The Mulholland brothers ran an $18 million Ponzi scheme, the AG says
Flickr user Pictures of Money /

Candidates often publicize the amount of money they have raised by including it in press releases or newsletters. But with campaign financing often criticized for it's ability to sway candidates based on who is funding them, why would candidates willingly draw attention to how much they have received?

Joe DiSano of DiSano Strategies in Lansing says these numbers are targeted at potential donors and their opponents, not ordinary voters.

Energy drink founder pours money into politics

Mar 26, 2015
Mike Mozart / Creative Commons

Manoj Bhargava isn't a household name, but a report from the Center for Public Integrity says the Michigan-based billionaire’s campaign contributions rival the Koch Brothers'.

Bhargava is the founder of 5-hour Energy drinks.  Since 2009, he’s made about $5.3 million in state and national campaign contributions through his Michigan-based companies.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Legislation that would make changes to Michigan’s regulations on non-profit organizations is stirring controversy at the state Capitol.

Bills cleared a state House panel Wednesday that Democrats say they would make it easier for political organizations to hide information about their donors.

My guess is that Jerry Cannon is pretty upset today, and so are Pam Byrnes, Eric Schertzing and Bobby McKenzie.

They are all Democratic candidates for Congress in Michigan. They’ve been working their tails off for months trying to make some headway, three of them against Republican incumbents.

Cannon, a Vietnam veteran and former Kalkaska sheriff, was heavily recruited for the race by Lon Johnson, the new Democratic state chair. McKenzie, an anti-terrorism expert, and gave up a good job with the state department to come back and run.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There’s a lot of money being spent to elect Michigan’s Supreme Court justices.

The eight candidates running for three open slots on the Michigan Supreme Court have spent nearly $700,000 on TV ad buys as of this week.  

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new report shows outside money is flowing into Michigan’s U.S. Senate and governor’s races.

As of Sept. 1, nearly $30 million has been spent on TV ads on Michigan’s race for governor and U.S. Senate.

Rich Robinson, with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, poured through TV station public files to get the numbers.

He says about three quarters of the money has come from outside groups.     

A lot of that outside money has been ending up in Michigan’s U.S. Senate race.

Imagine that you are a CEO and you are looking to hire somebody for a temporary, two-year position that pays $174,000 a year, and may include access to highly sensitive information.

Somebody steps up and announces he will pay more than $3 million, most of it out of his own pocket, to be considered for this job.  Would you be suspicious?

Let’s say you also needed to hire someone for a lower-ranking position, one which will have little power, and which will pay less than $72,000. A woman who could easily make more than that elsewhere borrows money, hits up friends, and spends more than $200,000 in an attempt to be a finalist for the position.

Would you say something is wrong here?

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

New data show Michigan congressional candidates are digging deep into their own pockets to pay for their campaigns.

A trio of businessmen running for Republican congressional nominations have dug the deepest, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission this week.

User: Keith Ivey / flickr

A new report finds that for every dollar spent by a Michigan candidate in campaign ads, outside groups have spent $3.50.

Looking at it another way: of the $18 million spent on campaign TV ads over the first half of this year, outside groups paid for $14 million of that.

Rich Robinson, executive director of the campaign spending watchdog group Michigan Campaign Finance Network, talked about the consequences of outside money in Michigan political campaigns.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A campaign spending watchdog is worried about the potential effect on Michigan’s politics by a U.S. Supreme Court decision today. 

The Supreme Court has struck down limits in federal law on the overall campaign contributions the biggest individual donors may make to candidates, political parties and political action committees.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette kicked off his reelection campaign today in his hometown of Midland.

In his speech, Schuette touted his record in office, including efforts to combat human trafficking and protect pensions.

“A record that’s strong and clear. It’s a record of being a voice for victims. A voice for the constitution and a voice for Michigan,” says Schuette. “It’s a long election and I’m going to win. I’m going to take my case to the citizens across the state of Michigan.”

Schuette didn’t directly address the controversy over same-sex marriage.

Two years ago, there were three truly national presidential candidates on the November ballot. Two were Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. But who was the third? Give up? It was Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.

Like Obama and Romney, he was on almost every state ballot, except Oklahoma and, ironically, Michigan, where more than 7,000 people did write in his name. Part of the reason most of us don’t remember Johnson is because, in the end, President Obama got about 66 million votes. Romney got about 61 million. Gary Johnson got a little over a million and a quarter, or just under one percent.

Why did he do so poorly? Were his ideas that repellent? My guess is, not really.

The Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This Week in Review, Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss the passage of the ani-abortion coverage bill and campaign finance bill, as well as the appointment of the first female CEO of General Motors.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Dark money bills go to Gov. Snyder's desk

"People who pay for so-called “issue ads” would be able to stay anonymous under a bill that has cleared the state Legislature. It would also double the amount of money people can give to campaigns and political action committees – or “PACS”. The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk," Jake Neher reports.

Three medical marijuana bills move forward

"Medical marijuana patients in Michigan would have more ways to legally obtain and consume cannabis under three bills that cleared the state House Thursday. A bill to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate again in Michigan and another to let patients use edible or topical forms of medical marijuana will now go to the state Senate. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate approved legislation that could clear the way for pharmacies to sell medical marijuana in Michigan. That now goes to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk," Jake Neher reports.

New petition drive planned against anti-abortion coverage law

"A campaign is organizing to block the new law that will require people to buy a separate insurance policy for abortion coverage. The Legislature approved the law this week. Because it’s a petition initiative, it will take effect next year without the governor’s signature. Abortion rights advocates are putting together a coalition to launch a petition drive." Rick Pluta reports.

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Campaign finance bills now approved by both the state House and Senate would double the amount of money that people can give to political campaigns.

It would also block a proposal by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson that would require so-called "issue ads" to disclose who paid for them.

But the legislation does require political robo-calls to include contact information for the groups behind them.

Michigan has seen record amounts of money spent on campaigns in recent years. This legislation opens the door to more spending. Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network writes:

Record spending and a continuing trend of diminishing accountability for that spending were the major features of Michigan's 2012 state election campaigns. 

For more on the trends on campaign spending in Michigan, listen to this Stateside interview with Robinson.

I would like you to raise your hand if you think that what our state really needs is more money influencing our politics. More campaign donations, but especially more so-called dark money -- money secretly given by shadowy, anonymous, often out of state donors to try to influence the way we vote.

Somehow I don’t think many of you raised your hands.

Now one more question: Would you like the Legislature to pass a new law that would make it impossible to ever find out where those huge anonymous contributions come from?

My guess is … no.

Well, here’s the bad news. Lawmakers did all that anyway.

The state House passed a bill yesterday that would double the maximum contribution citizens can give to candidates and political action committees. The state Senate finalized the measure today. 

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Anti-abortion coverage bill approved

"The Michigan Legislature has approved a petition initiative that will require people to buy a separate health insurance policy for abortion coverage. The measure cannot be vetoed by Governor Rick Snyder. But it could be challenged via another petition drive," Rick Pluta reports.

What bills could move through on the last day of session

"Big legislation that could win final approval today would expand a state reform school district to failing schools beyond Detroit and ease the potential discontinuation of traditional land line service. Legislators also plan to update campaign laws heading into an election year by doubling donation limits and keeping intact rules for political ads over objections from the secretary of state," the Associated Press reports.

DIA now involved in bankruptcy talks

"The Detroit Institute of Arts has been allowed into talks on how to protect pieces in its collection during Detroit's bankruptcy. Museum officials say they're mobilizing public support to help implement a fundraising strategy that will meet the city's needs and ensure the well-being of the museum," the Associated Press reports.

Matthileo / Flickr

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss marijuana and campaign finance bills and the appointment of the first female CEO of General Motors.

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State Senate approves bill making it easier to end land line service

"Phone companies would have an easier time discontinuing traditional land lines under legislation that has passed the Michigan Senate. The bill approved yesterday is designed to loosen regulations on AT&T and other providers as more customers forgo land lines and just carry cellphones," the Associated Press reports.

House is close to vote on issue ads and campaign finance bills

"State House Speaker Jase Bolger says the House is close to a vote on legislation that would double the amount of money people can give to political campaigns. The bill would also block a proposal that would require groups who pay for so-called 'issue ads' to disclose their donors," Jake Neher reports.

Philanthropists encouraged to save DIA and pensioners

One Michigander has offered to donate $5 million to help protect the DIA and Detroit retiree pensions. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

"Millionaire A. Paul Schaap said he plans to meet today with U.S. Chief District Judge Gerald Rosen, who is serving as mediator in Detroit’s bankruptcy case. Rosen has been trying to persuade at least 10 charitable foundations to put up $500 million to spin off the DIA from the city, which could then use the money to reduce pension cuts and improve services."

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

It could be a busy December for state lawmakers after they return from their Thanksgiving break.

Here are some of the issues that could come up for debate before the end of the year.

Paying for the Medicaid expansion delay – In a procedural vote earlier this year, state lawmakers delayed by about two months the implementation of Michigan’s Medicaid expansion law. In doing so, they created a hole in the budget of more than $70 million.

Legislative leaders say passing a bill to fill that hole is one of their top priorities in the coming weeks.

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Governor Snyder supports campaign finance law changes

"Governor Snyder says he tentatively supports some major changes to Michigan’s campaign finance laws. The State Senate acted earlier this month to double the amount individuals can donate to state lawmakers’ campaigns. It would require some additional financial disclosure from those campaigns," Sarah Cwiek reports.

Officials to discuss a development in last years fungal meningitis outbreak

"Victims of last year's fungal meningitis outbreak aren't holding out much hope they'll receive compensation for the deaths and illnesses caused by tainted steroids traced to a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy. Officials will hold a news conference today to discuss a development in the investigation. Twenty two people from Michigan died in the outbreak," the Associated Press reports.

Gaming compact expires Saturday

"At the end of this week the 1993 gaming compact between the state of Michigan and six native American tribes officially expires. Some say theoretically, if the gaming compact is allowed to expire, the tribes should not be able to legally operate their casinos. However it’s doubtful the state would attempt to force the casinos to close," Steve Carmody reports.