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Democrats blast legislation they say protects “dark money” donors

Nov 12, 2014

Credit 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.

“The bill, as drafted, would conceal information about these donations even from board members of the organization,” said state Rep. Jim Townsend, D-Royal Oak. “And, yes, that’s what you have to do if you want to keep a secret – you’ve got to keep even your own board members in the dark.”

“The ‘dark money’ that people are complaining about occurs in this fashion. This is the way dark money happens,” he said.

Townsend offered an amendment in committee that would require non-profits to disclose more information about donations. That amendment was rejected on a party-line vote.

Supporters of Senate Bills 623 and 624 say they would simply bring Michigan law in line with existing laws clarifying business regulations.

“We have very clear campaign finance laws in Michigan,” said Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton.

“(Democrats) are in the wrong part of the act, the wrong section of law for them to be bringing this up. It sounds more like political talking points than actual real issues that they’re trying to address.”

But Townsend stands by his position that his amendment was appropriate and necessary.

“In committee today, we heard people say, ‘Well we should be amending the Campaign Finance Act.’ I couldn’t agree more,” he said. “But that was not the bill in front of us. The bill we had to amend today could have helped solve the problem and we didn’t take the opportunity.”

The bills have already cleared the state Senate. They now go to the floor of the state House.

Here are links to the bills –

http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2013-SB-0623

http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2013-SB-0624