Democrats call for election law changes after investigation in Schmidt-Bolger incident

Jul 26, 2012

Democrats are pushing for the changes in the wake of a plot by State Representative Roy Schmidt and Speaker of the House Jase Bolger so Schmidt could switch parties and be re-elected as a Republican.

Earlier this month the Kent County Prosecutor issued a report on his investigation.

The report states that Schmidt decided in the beginning of May to switch political parties. But he held a fundraising dinner with Democrats after that decision anyway. He did return money to donors who requested it back.

About 10 minutes before the filing deadline, one of Bolger’s top aides filed paperwork with the Kent County clerk to withdraw Schmidt as a Democrat on the ballot and place his name instead as a Republican candidate. The aide also filed the paperwork for a fake Democrat to run against Schmidt. The two lawmakers discussed recruiting the decoy candidate on text messages revealed in the report.   

The Kent County Prosecutor (an elected Republican) concludes that two lawmakers attempted to “perpetrate a fraud” on voters. But he also pointed out they didn’t commit any crime in doing so.

“Incredibly, while it would be illegal to pay a boxer to take a “dive” or a basketball player to “point-shave”, it is not currently a crime in Michigan to recruit someone to run for public office, place them on the ballot at the “eleventh hour” and essentially pay them to make no effort to win.”

State Representative Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) wants the legislature to pass new election laws to prevent something like this from happening again.

"This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Maintaining the integrity of elections and holding elected officials accountable for abiding by ethical standards when they file for office should be something that Republicans, Democrats, independents and everybody agrees on,” Dillon said.

There are several proposed changes. They would increase fines for election fraud and require transparency when someone switches political parties. Here’s a synopsis the party provided.

Increasing Fines for Election Fraud

Increase the fines for committing election fraud from $1,000 to $10,000 (election fraud includes making a false affidavit or swearing falsely under oath for the purpose of securing voter registration, for the purpose of voting at an election, or for the purpose of qualifying as a candidate for elective office)  — HB 5722 (Dillon).

Giving Opportunities for Fair Competition Following Last-Minute Party Switches

If an incumbent candidate switches party within seven days prior to the filing deadline, the political party losing the member will have the opportunity post-filing deadline (within 14 days after) to pick a candidate of their choosing.

Requiring Candidates to Live in the District for 60 Days Before Running for Office

A bill to amend Michigan Election Law to bolster residency requirements for candidates running for state legislative districts by requiring individuals to live in the legislative district for at least 60 days prior to running for office.

Returning Campaign Contributions Following a Party Switch

A bill to amend Michigan Campaign Finance Law to require candidates who have switched political parties to return all campaign contributions made to the elected official for one calendar year back from the date of the switch and provide interest to the contributor on the amount of the contribution.

Requiring Transparency in Fund Raising Following a Party Switch

Once an incumbent candidate signs an affidavit switching parties for reelection, from that date forward, the candidate shall not hold a fundraiser or in any way fundraise without publicly disclosing the action of switching parties in the filing for re-election.

Mandating Candidates File Their Own Affidavits

Requiring certain candidates, including legislative candidates, to file their affidavits for candidacy in person (prohibiting sending someone to file your affidavit for you).

Requiring Earlier Filing Deadlines for Incumbents

Require incumbent elected officials to file one week earlier for re-election (allowing an additional week for challengers similar to how the law requires incumbent judges to file earlier).

Some of these have been introduced already, but the State House is on a summer break right now. Dillon says they’ll push for the changes once the state House returns in mid-August.

House Speaker Press Secretary Ari Adler wrote this response:

"We announced the first step toward election reform yesterday, so we are glad the Democrats are willing to join our effort. Serious proposals from any source will be reviewed and considered because the Speaker has said we should look at increasing the standards for election law. Proposals simply designed to score political points, however, are not going to be considered because we need solutions, not rhetoric."