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“Citizens United” bill latest in long line of elections proposals riling Michigan Democrats

Dec 9, 2015

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Senate has approved campaign finance legislation that would write the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling into state law.

The court ruled that the First Amendment allows unrestricted independent political spending by outside groups.

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.

Republican supporters say Senate Bill 638 simply brings state law in line with federal free speech protections.

“The bill issues clarity on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision and provides for a level playing field – regardless of political affiliation – for everyone in terms of protection of our First Amendment rights and free political speech,” said bill sponsor state Sen. Dave Robertson, R-Grand Blanc.

The legislation now goes to the state house.

It’s just one in a long and growing list of proposed elections policy changes that have Democrats up in arms.

Later on Tuesday, the state House OK’d a bill to eliminate the straight-ticket voting option on ballots during a late-night marathon session.

Other bills would limit weekend hours for local clerks ahead of elections, and move Oakland County’s executive election to gubernatorial elections years from presidential election years.

“They’re trying to make voting more difficult,” said state Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor. “They’re trying to change the rules about when certain officials are elected. And all of these things – all of these different voter suppression efforts - are meant to lower turnout and advantage the Republican Party.”

“I’m focused on good election policy,” said state Rep. Lisa Lyons, R-Alto, who chairs the House Elections Committee.

Lyons and fellow Republicans say the bills encourage voters to be more informed at the polls, and make elections policies more uniform across the state.

The bill to eliminate straight-ticket voting was recently tied to Lyons’ bill that would allow no-reason absentee voting in Michigan, which the House also approved on Tuesday night. One bill could not become law unless the other also becomes law. Voters would still have to apply for their absentee ballots in person. That legislation has bipartisan support.

Both the straight-ticket elimination and no-reason absentee voting bills now go to the state Senate.