Stateside: Financial transparency in politics

Nov 7, 2012

Millions of dollars were invested in Michigan’s recent ballot proposals.

While citizens were aware that money was being spent, it was often unclear how much money was spent and from whom it was coming.

Michigan Radio’s Lester Graham and Rich Robinson, director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, spoke with Cyndy about the need for financial transparency in elections.

“The total spent was $152 and that number includes $5 million for what would have been Proposal 7. So if you back that out of it, it’s somewhere near $146 million,” said Robinson.

The failure of Proposals 2-6 prove that financial investments do not guarantee a proposal’s legislation.

“This shows you can’t buy the Michigan voters. They’ll do their homework when they need to and they did. I think getting hit with all these proposals at once made a lot of people think, ‘Do we really want to be able to amend the Constitution that easily?’” said Graham.

“The thing that should be born in mind is Proposal 1 and 2 essentially relied on volunteer signature gatherers. I think one important thing is the nonprofit corporations that are involved in gathering their money need to be ventilated as far as whereas they’re getting their money. Proposal 4 was essentially a corporate shell around SEIU money,” said Robinson.

Financial transparency is something to which Graham referred, saying that it would greatly benefit the public .

“I think until the citizens of this state start realizing that while they weren’t bought by these proposals, some of their candidates are getting a lot of money that is off the books, in their campaigns and that is going to influence how we’re governed. We need to call for transparency,” said Graham.

“People don’t write six-figure checks for selfless reasons. They have an agenda in mind,” said Robinson.

Although Matty Maroun spent nearly $33 million on Proposal 6 to no result, his presence in the media will not cease any time soon.

“Matty Maroun’s not going anywhere. I suspect a lawsuit of some kind will be his next move,” said Graham.

“The reality here is that time is money. The longer he can filibuster the construction on the new bridge, the longer he can collect monopoly rents at that bridge crossing,” said Robinson.

Both Graham and Robinson shared their final thoughts on transparency and money in politics.

“Personally I don’t think it’s healthy to allow interest groups to spend without limit. The one thing we do have to look forward to is transparency and I think the citizens of this state need to pursue it," said Robinson.

“I think it’s going to take a while and it’s going to require grassroots effort to get an initiative on the ballot. Certainly none of these folks who are handling dark money are going to contribute to that cause. I am optimistic that someone will run with it but I don’t think it will happen any time soon,” said Graham.

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