Opinion
8:25 am
Thu December 12, 2013

More 'dark money' will influence politics in Michigan if Snyder doesn't veto

Lessenberry commentary for 12/12/13

I would like you to raise your hand if you think that what our state really needs is more money influencing our politics. More campaign donations, but especially more so-called dark money -- money secretly given by shadowy, anonymous, often out of state donors to try to influence the way we vote.

Somehow I don’t think many of you raised your hands.

Now one more question: Would you like the Legislature to pass a new law that would make it impossible to ever find out where those huge anonymous contributions come from?

My guess is … no.

Well, here’s the bad news. Lawmakers did all that anyway.

The state House passed a bill yesterday that would double the maximum contribution citizens can give to candidates and political action committees. The state Senate finalized the measure today. 

The lawmakers knew this might look bad, so they dressed it up as reform by also requiring more frequent campaign finance reporting.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville is also pretending this is a bill that will control the hated robocalls that we get just before elections. In fact, it does nothing of the kind. It merely requires some sort of mild disclaimer at the end of the robocall, which will come long after most normal humans have hung up. 

The worst thing this bill does, however, is prevent the secretary of state from requiring those giving money, in some cases millions of dollars, to so-called “issue-oriented ads”  to identify themselves.

Almost four years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court did say that there could be essentially no limits on campaign spending. But at the same time, the justices said states could at least require full disclosure of where the money came from, but that isn’t true in Michigan.

As it stands now, I could form a committee with an innocuous name, like “The Good Government Folks,” get millions in secret funding from al-Qaeda or the Koch Brothers, and use it to pay for TV commercials smearing a candidate. If you think that’s absurd, something very much like that has been going on in our state Supreme Court races.

A few weeks ago, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said she was going to put in place a new rule to require disclosure of where all this money is coming from. Within hours, panicked state senators moved to outlaw the possibility she could do so.

This is the final result.

The question now is whether Governor Rick Snyder will sign this into law. 

If he lives up to his pledges in the past for full disclosure and openness, he should veto it. But my guess is that he will praise the window dressing labeled as reform, and sign it. Let’s hope that I am proven totally wrong.

*Correction - Previous copy implied that the measure was finalized yesterday. The measure was finished up today. The copy has been corrected above.

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