When Republicans pushed through a campaign finance bill at the end of last year’s Michigan Legislative session, it was met with little resistance. In fact, many would be hard-pressed to remember what exactly the bill was attempting to fix.
The provision, which was added just hours before the last session of the year closed, banned any public body or most public officials from using public money to spread factual information about local ballot measures in the 60-day run-up to an election.
Critics of the bill, like the Michigan Municipal League, have called the provision a “gag order,” which has led to the filing of a federal lawsuit against the state of Michigan. The lawsuit, which lists the state and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson as defendants, claims the ban is a violation of free speech within the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
According to Dearborn Mayor John B. O'Reilly, Jr., who is the president of the MML, the Senate broke its own rules in an effort to add the provision.
“In the last hours of the session, they had a private caucus in the House of Representatives where only the Republicans were there, and they said ‘we’re going to run this bill but we’re changing it ... and it’s going to be different,’ Mayor O’Reilly told Stateside. “They never had the bill printed, so nobody had a copy of it. Under the rules, any bill that is modified by the other chamber after it is passed by one chamber, has to wait one day before they can take it up, but they decided to waive that rule.”
In the end, he said, no one had read the bill before it was voted on, not even the media who were in attendance.
So why was the provision added? Stateside reached out to Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, but his office declined a request for an interview.
O’Reilly could only speculate as to why it was necessary.
“I believe there are some people who believe somehow that the public isn’t smart enough to discern what the truth is, and so they think they are being hoodwinked into passing millages and so on,” said Mayor O’Reilly. “I think that’s really what’s behind it, which is sad too, because then that means they have no faith in the voters.”
Mayor O’Reilly described it as a “heavy-handed solution to something that we have no evidence is a widespread problem.”
In the end, the courts will decide if this provision was a violation of free speech, but a timetable on a ruling is not known at this time.
Listen to the full interview with Mayor O’Reilly to get more insight into the pending lawsuit and what impact he feels the bill will have for voters.