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If you are not outraged by this bill, you might be a billionaire

Dec 1, 2016

Tim Greimel, the outgoing leader of the Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives, put it this way:

“I’ve talked to thousands of voters, and never had a single one say we’ve needed more money and less accountability and less transparency in politics.” 

I have no doubt that’s true.

But one man believes that’s exactly what we need: State Senator Dave Robertson, a Genesee County Republican who chairs the committee on Elections and Government Reform. Over the last two years, Robertson has successfully blocked anything that would make it easier for citizens to vote.

Over the last two years, Robertson has successfully blocked anything that would make it easier for citizens to vote.

But Robertson does want to make it easier for big moneyed interests to give unlimited amounts to political candidates, and for such candidates to ask them for funds, which grownups know always come with strings attached.

According to Craig Mauger, the executive director of the nonpartisan and non-profit Michigan Campaign Finance Network, Robertson’s Senate Bill 638 would allow a candidate for any state office, to go to a group and ask them to give a million dollars – or more – to an “independent expenditure committee,” sometimes known as a Super PAC, knowing that the committee would then give the money to the candidate’s campaign.

Basically, this would go ever further than the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United decision, and mean that politicians could not only be bought, but openly sell themselves, largely without fear that the public would find out who bought them.

To quote directly from the bill itself, it would:

“provide that an entity making a contribution to or an expenditure for an independent expenditure committee would have no reporting obligations.”

Which means you could go to the Ku Klux Klan, ask them to give a million to the Committee for the Protection of Cute Puppies, with the understanding that the cute puppy committee would give it to your campaign. And nobody would ever have to know.

That may be a bit far-fetched, though after this year’s presidential campaign I’m not sure if anything is.

But as Mauger said in an essay in the Detroit Free Press last Friday:

The bill will further concentrate the political power of large donors, [and] likely lead to more threats of primary challenges against elected representatives if those representatives don’t do million-dollar donors’ bidding.

Twenty years ago, I don't think anyone would have dared introduce a bill this blatantly anti-democratic.

Twenty years ago, I don’t think anyone would have dared introduce a bill this blatantly anti-democratic.  But this one is about to become law.

The state Senate already passed it, with little fanfare. 

The Republican leadership also expects to slip it through the state House sometime during the current lame duck session.

Griemel isn’t sure just when; those in power don’t like to give much notice when they are about to pass something outrageous.

He told me, “I’m sure every Democrat will vote against it,” and he thought a handful of Republicans might too.

But he added wearily “but I would really be surprised if they were enough of them to stop the bill.”

That is, unless an outraged public finds out what is going on.

Which is why I just told you about it. I suggest you go on line and read exactly what this bill would do. Then if you aren’t outraged, you may be a billionaire. 

And as that great anonymous prophet said, you just can’t make this stuff up.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.