campaign finance

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.

My guess is that Jerry Cannon is pretty upset today, and so are Pam Byrnes, Eric Schertzing and Bobby McKenzie.

They are all Democratic candidates for Congress in Michigan. They’ve been working their tails off for months trying to make some headway, three of them against Republican incumbents.

Cannon, a Vietnam veteran and former Kalkaska sheriff, was heavily recruited for the race by Lon Johnson, the new Democratic state chair. McKenzie, an anti-terrorism expert, and gave up a good job with the state department to come back and run.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There’s a lot of money being spent to elect Michigan’s Supreme Court justices.

The eight candidates running for three open slots on the Michigan Supreme Court have spent nearly $700,000 on TV ad buys as of this week.  

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new report shows outside money is flowing into Michigan’s U.S. Senate and governor’s races.

As of Sept. 1, nearly $30 million has been spent on TV ads on Michigan’s race for governor and U.S. Senate.

Rich Robinson, with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, poured through TV station public files to get the numbers.

He says about three quarters of the money has come from outside groups.     

A lot of that outside money has been ending up in Michigan’s U.S. Senate race.

Imagine that you are a CEO and you are looking to hire somebody for a temporary, two-year position that pays $174,000 a year, and may include access to highly sensitive information.

Somebody steps up and announces he will pay more than $3 million, most of it out of his own pocket, to be considered for this job.  Would you be suspicious?

Let’s say you also needed to hire someone for a lower-ranking position, one which will have little power, and which will pay less than $72,000. A woman who could easily make more than that elsewhere borrows money, hits up friends, and spends more than $200,000 in an attempt to be a finalist for the position.

Would you say something is wrong here?

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

New data show Michigan congressional candidates are digging deep into their own pockets to pay for their campaigns.

A trio of businessmen running for Republican congressional nominations have dug the deepest, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission this week.

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A new report finds that for every dollar spent by a Michigan candidate in campaign ads, outside groups have spent $3.50.

Looking at it another way: of the $18 million spent on campaign TV ads over the first half of this year, outside groups paid for $14 million of that.

Rich Robinson, executive director of the campaign spending watchdog group Michigan Campaign Finance Network, talked about the consequences of outside money in Michigan political campaigns.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A campaign spending watchdog is worried about the potential effect on Michigan’s politics by a U.S. Supreme Court decision today. 

The Supreme Court has struck down limits in federal law on the overall campaign contributions the biggest individual donors may make to candidates, political parties and political action committees.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette kicked off his reelection campaign today in his hometown of Midland.

In his speech, Schuette touted his record in office, including efforts to combat human trafficking and protect pensions.

“A record that’s strong and clear. It’s a record of being a voice for victims. A voice for the constitution and a voice for Michigan,” says Schuette. “It’s a long election and I’m going to win. I’m going to take my case to the citizens across the state of Michigan.”

Schuette didn’t directly address the controversy over same-sex marriage.

Two years ago, there were three truly national presidential candidates on the November ballot. Two were Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. But who was the third? Give up? It was Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.

Like Obama and Romney, he was on almost every state ballot, except Oklahoma and, ironically, Michigan, where more than 7,000 people did write in his name. Part of the reason most of us don’t remember Johnson is because, in the end, President Obama got about 66 million votes. Romney got about 61 million. Gary Johnson got a little over a million and a quarter, or just under one percent.

Why did he do so poorly? Were his ideas that repellent? My guess is, not really.

The Michigan House of Representatives.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This Week in Review, Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss the passage of the ani-abortion coverage bill and campaign finance bill, as well as the appointment of the first female CEO of General Motors.

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Dark money bills go to Gov. Snyder's desk

"People who pay for so-called “issue ads” would be able to stay anonymous under a bill that has cleared the state Legislature. It would also double the amount of money people can give to campaigns and political action committees – or “PACS”. The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk," Jake Neher reports.

Three medical marijuana bills move forward

"Medical marijuana patients in Michigan would have more ways to legally obtain and consume cannabis under three bills that cleared the state House Thursday. A bill to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate again in Michigan and another to let patients use edible or topical forms of medical marijuana will now go to the state Senate. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate approved legislation that could clear the way for pharmacies to sell medical marijuana in Michigan. That now goes to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk," Jake Neher reports.

New petition drive planned against anti-abortion coverage law

"A campaign is organizing to block the new law that will require people to buy a separate insurance policy for abortion coverage. The Legislature approved the law this week. Because it’s a petition initiative, it will take effect next year without the governor’s signature. Abortion rights advocates are putting together a coalition to launch a petition drive." Rick Pluta reports.

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Campaign finance bills now approved by both the state House and Senate would double the amount of money that people can give to political campaigns.

It would also block a proposal by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson that would require so-called "issue ads" to disclose who paid for them.

But the legislation does require political robo-calls to include contact information for the groups behind them.

Michigan has seen record amounts of money spent on campaigns in recent years. This legislation opens the door to more spending. Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network writes:

Record spending and a continuing trend of diminishing accountability for that spending were the major features of Michigan's 2012 state election campaigns. 

For more on the trends on campaign spending in Michigan, listen to this Stateside interview with Robinson.

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. 

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Anti-abortion coverage bill approved

"The Michigan Legislature has approved a petition initiative that will require people to buy a separate health insurance policy for abortion coverage. The measure cannot be vetoed by Governor Rick Snyder. But it could be challenged via another petition drive," Rick Pluta reports.

What bills could move through on the last day of session

"Big legislation that could win final approval today would expand a state reform school district to failing schools beyond Detroit and ease the potential discontinuation of traditional land line service. Legislators also plan to update campaign laws heading into an election year by doubling donation limits and keeping intact rules for political ads over objections from the secretary of state," the Associated Press reports.

DIA now involved in bankruptcy talks

"The Detroit Institute of Arts has been allowed into talks on how to protect pieces in its collection during Detroit's bankruptcy. Museum officials say they're mobilizing public support to help implement a fundraising strategy that will meet the city's needs and ensure the well-being of the museum," the Associated Press reports.

Matthileo / Flickr

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss marijuana and campaign finance bills and the appointment of the first female CEO of General Motors.

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State Senate approves bill making it easier to end land line service

"Phone companies would have an easier time discontinuing traditional land lines under legislation that has passed the Michigan Senate. The bill approved yesterday is designed to loosen regulations on AT&T and other providers as more customers forgo land lines and just carry cellphones," the Associated Press reports.

House is close to vote on issue ads and campaign finance bills

"State House Speaker Jase Bolger says the House is close to a vote on legislation that would double the amount of money people can give to political campaigns. The bill would also block a proposal that would require groups who pay for so-called 'issue ads' to disclose their donors," Jake Neher reports.

Philanthropists encouraged to save DIA and pensioners

One Michigander has offered to donate $5 million to help protect the DIA and Detroit retiree pensions. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

"Millionaire A. Paul Schaap said he plans to meet today with U.S. Chief District Judge Gerald Rosen, who is serving as mediator in Detroit’s bankruptcy case. Rosen has been trying to persuade at least 10 charitable foundations to put up $500 million to spin off the DIA from the city, which could then use the money to reduce pension cuts and improve services."

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

It could be a busy December for state lawmakers after they return from their Thanksgiving break.

Here are some of the issues that could come up for debate before the end of the year.

Paying for the Medicaid expansion delay – In a procedural vote earlier this year, state lawmakers delayed by about two months the implementation of Michigan’s Medicaid expansion law. In doing so, they created a hole in the budget of more than $70 million.

Legislative leaders say passing a bill to fill that hole is one of their top priorities in the coming weeks.

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Governor Snyder supports campaign finance law changes

"Governor Snyder says he tentatively supports some major changes to Michigan’s campaign finance laws. The State Senate acted earlier this month to double the amount individuals can donate to state lawmakers’ campaigns. It would require some additional financial disclosure from those campaigns," Sarah Cwiek reports.

Officials to discuss a development in last years fungal meningitis outbreak

"Victims of last year's fungal meningitis outbreak aren't holding out much hope they'll receive compensation for the deaths and illnesses caused by tainted steroids traced to a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy. Officials will hold a news conference today to discuss a development in the investigation. Twenty two people from Michigan died in the outbreak," the Associated Press reports.

Gaming compact expires Saturday

"At the end of this week the 1993 gaming compact between the state of Michigan and six native American tribes officially expires. Some say theoretically, if the gaming compact is allowed to expire, the tribes should not be able to legally operate their casinos. However it’s doubtful the state would attempt to force the casinos to close," Steve Carmody reports.

user Penywise / morguefile

This Week in Michigan Politics Christina Shockley and Jack Lessenberry discuss Mark Schauer’s proposal to raise the minimum wage, the political drama over issue ads, and the state of Detroit Public Schools.

Since our nation was founded, we’ve believed strongly that the essence of democracy lies in the public’s right to know. That’s the reason behind the words in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or of the right of the people peacefully to assemble.”

But there are forces in the Michigan legislature determined to prevent you from knowing certain things. Knowing, for example, the names of the rich people and special interests who give money to try to influence our votes, and how much they give.

First, a little background. Nearly four years ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled, essentially, that there could be no limits on how much corporations or special interests contributed to political campaigns. That came in a decision usually referred to as Citizens United.

But it is important to remember that a majority of the justices also said the people had a right to full disclosure, to know who was trying to influence our elections. Many states do, in fact, require this. But not Michigan, which when it comes to honesty and transparency in campaign financing, ranks with the worst.

This week we saw yet another split in the Republican Party. But this intra-party fight had little to do with the usual Tea Party v. Establishment narrative. Instead, the imbroglio was over “issue ads.” Or, to be even more specific: disclosure of who is paying for issue ads.

Issue ads can sound and look an awful lot like campaign ads but they don’t directly or explicitly endorse a candidate by saying “vote for Candidate X” or “oppose Candidate Y.” It’s these magic little words – “vote,” “elect,” “support,” – that make a political ad a political ad.

But issue ads can say Candidate X did a horrible thing or Candidate Y is an amazing person. Take for example this ad from the 2010 Republican Gubernatorial Primary: “Raising taxes in this economy is crazy. But that’s what Congressman Pete Hoesktra wants to do… Call Congressman Hoesktra and tell him raising taxes is crazy.” Language like that makes it an issue ad. It says “call Congressman Hoekstra” but it doesn’t specifically say how to vote.

wikimedia commons

Each Thursday we talk Michigan politics with Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Susan Demas, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics. 

This morning, Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson proposed new rules that would require more disclosure of who pays for issue ads. The Senate added language to block the Secretary of State’s proposal, and approved a bill that would double the amount an individual could contribute to a candidate or a candidate committee.

“What the Secretary of State is trying to do is level a very unequal playing field when it comes to financing campaigns,” Sikkema explains. “Right now, a candidate committee has to disclose everybody who gave any amount of money, and there are severe limits on how much an individual can give. But independent committees do not have to disclose and there are no limits as to contributions.”

After moving quickly through the Senate, this proposal now faces the House.

Today’s papers are reporting the results of a new poll showing one of the candidates in the Detroit mayor’s race leading the other by almost a 2-1 margin.

But there’s another, less well-known poll that may tell the real story of this and most elections. Unlike opinion polls, this one has hard numbers. It is the money poll, and in this one, Mike Duggan is leading Benny Napoleon by almost ten to one.

That’s based on the latest reports filed by Political Action Committes, or PACs, which raise money for campaigns in this state. They usually exist to raise money for candidates for office.

The PAC supporting Napoleon, Detroit Forward, had raised $303,000 dollars, as of ten days ago. The PAC supporting Duggan, called Turnaround Detroit, $2.8 million.

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Plan to expand mental health courts moves forward

"A plan to expand mental health courts in Michigan seems to be gaining momentum in the state Legislature. A state House panel unanimously approved the legislation Thursday. People with serious mental health issues can avoid jail time and have certain charges erased from public records if they participate in treatment programs," Jake Neher reports.

State Bar wants to end anonymous campaign donations

"The State Bar of Michigan says it’s time to end anonymous campaign spending in elections for judges and Supreme Court justices. It’s asking the state’s top elections official to require committees that pay for so-called “issue ads” to reveal their donors," Rick Pluta reports.

Another Michigan community has gay rights ordinance

A Flint area community has approved an ordinance that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the Associated Press, "The City Council in Linden voted this week to approve the ordinance covering employment, housing, public services and other areas."

Confidence in the judicial system in our state has been undermined because funding sources for many judicial campaign ads remain secret, says the State Bar of Michigan.

Bruce Courtade, president of the State Bar of Michigan, discusses "dark money" in Michigan, and why the Bar is claiming Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land made a “bad ruling” back in 2004 on campaign spending. 

We continued our look at energy in Michigan on the show. Today, it's all about fracking. Horizontal hydraulic fracturing has led to an abundance of natural gas, but it is also raising a lot of concerns, both in the U.S. and Europe. We spoke with Andy Hoffman, Abrahm Lustgarten, and Russell Padmore about the risks.

And, you've heard of Benton Harbor and Whirlpool, Battle Creek and Kellogg - we explored "company towns" and what they mean for the Michigan economy.

First on the show, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network today released its 2012 Citizen’s Guide to Michigan Campaign Finance entitled “Descending into Dark Money.”

I’m sure you’ll be just shocked, shocked I tell you - to learn record amounts of money were spent with even less accountability for who was spending that money. 

Rich Robinson with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network joined us in the studio today to discuss the issue. 

Michigan Campaign Finance Network

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network today released its 2012 Citizen’s Guide to Michigan Campaign Finance entitled "Descending into Dark Money."

Record amounts of money were spent in Michigan with even less accountability for who was spending that money.

In his press release today, the man behind the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, Rich Robinson, stated:

"We are victims of an anachronistic interpretation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act that allows unaccountable dark money to dominate our politics. Citizens should have the right to know whose money is driving critically important election outcomes, so they can evaluate how campaign spending correlates to policy outcomes."

Robinson joined us in the studio today to discuss the issue.

Listen to the full interview above.

Today is the 110th birthday of one of my greatest heroes: George Orwell, who spent his too-short life fighting for fairness, honesty and democracy.

Orwell has been dead since 1950, and today, when we use the adjective Orwellian to describe something, we usually don’t mean something good. We mean something dark, sinister and hypocritical, something that reminds us of his book 1984.

Well, there’s no doubt that we have something of an Orwellian campaign finance system in this state, and today one of my living heroes, Rich Robinson, is releasing a new report showing in frightening detail just how much money dominates politics.

His survey, Descending Into Dark Money, shows that we don’t know where the vast majority of campaign spending comes from. And the system is designed to prevent us from finding out.

Courtesy photo / Michigan Democratic Party

It's Sunshine Week, an annual push for open government and the public’s right to know stuff.

Democrats in the state House tied the introduction of a package of bills to Sunshine Week. The bills include a number of changes to Michigan's laws and constitution regarding ethics, campaign finance, and elections.

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