campaign finance

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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.

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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.

A task force says electing Michigan Supreme Court justices should not be as partisan, or as much about money, as other political offices. But according to one watchdog group, last year the Michigan Supreme Court campaign was the most expensive, most secretive judicial election in America. Several recommendations to get some of the politics and secret money out of the Supreme Court elections were ignored by the legislature last year.

It’s coming up on a year since the Judicial Selection Task Force issued a report recommending changes to how we elect Michigan Supreme Court justices. Since then we elected three to the bench. Although the candidates ran on the non-partisan section of the ballot, politics was involved from the beginning.

“Michigan is unusual in that our Supreme Court race is so partisan. The candidates are nominated at a party convention,” said Susan Smith, President of the League of Women Voters of Michigan. Continuing, she said, “And, even though it doesn’t say on the ballot how they got nominated or which party nominated them, it’s really a farce, then, to put it up as a non-partisan election.”

And if politics is not far removed from electing Supreme Court justices, neither is money.

Stateside: Dark money in campaign funding

Jan 10, 2013
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There is an ongoing trend of furtive campaign funding in Michigan.

Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said voters should demand transparency from their elected officials and their funding.

Robinson called this undisclosed funding “dark money.”

And the two biggest sources of it are, according to Robinson, Michigan’s Democrat and Republican parties.

“My basic premise is that people don’t spend large amounts of money in politics for philanthropic motives. Essentially, they’re advancing their own interests in politics,” he said.

According to Robinson, citizens have a right to know where the money comes from.

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Where to go for last minute election research

"For those who still don't know how to vote in tomorrow's election, there are resources available. Voters can look at their ballots ahead of time at the the voter education Web site, publius.org. The website includes video clips that analyze the statewide ballot questions and some local proposals. The site also has a few hundred candidate videos from districts scattered across the state," Sarah Hulett reports.

Damaged cars from superstorm Sandy could end up in Michigan car lots

"Hurricane Sandy damaged a lot of cars along the East Coast. Consumer advocates say it's possible some of those cars could end up on Michigan dealer lots. Ronald Montoya is with Edmunds dot com. He says if the damage was reported, it will appear on vehicle damage reports, such as Car Fax or Autocheck. Otherwise, a mechanic should take a look at the car to see if there are signs of water damage," Tracy Samilton reports.

Michigan Congressional race spending down in Michigan

"Nationwide, U.S. House candidates are raising record numbers of money for their campaigns this year. But that's not the case in Michigan. Michigan Congressional races will raise about $35 million this year - down from $50 million in 2010. That's because Michigan is down a district after losing population in the census. And Republicans redrew the district to protect incumbents. That means most races aren't all that competitive," Kate Wells reports.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

State House Speaker Jase Bolger spent today campaigning with Governor Rick Snyder.

Bolger is facing a potentially close vote next Tuesday in his southern Michigan state House district.

Jase Bolger has been dogged by allegations his office violated state campaign finance laws, when he helped facilitate a last minute party switch by a west Michigan state lawmaker earlier this year.

A week from now, the election will be over, we’ll have more or less digested what happened, and go back to contemplating the other daily dilemmas of life in our state.

There’s the issue of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, which wants to move from being a tightly regulated charity to being a normal non-profit, with much more freedom to do what it wants, and less responsibility to provide coverage for the uninsured.

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Every Saturday Michigan Radio's Rina Miller talks with political analyst Jack Lessenberry about the week's top regional news stories. This week they talk about Proposal 5 which would require a two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature in order to raise taxes and the cost of campaigning in the state.

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Bolger and Schmidt answer to complaints about breaking campaign finance laws

State House Speaker Jase Bolger and state Representative Roy Schmidt have a little less than three weeks to answer complaints they broke campaign finance laws. A complaint by the Kent County prosecutor filed with the Secretary of State names just Schmidt. One filed by Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer names both of them. The two plotted to keep a serious Democratic challenger off the ballot after Schmidt jumped from the Democrats to the Republicans. House Republican spokesman Ari Adler says no laws were broken, but the speaker will back legislation to stop what they tried to do from happening in the future.  The Secretary of State sent letters last week to Bolger and Schmidt informing them there is an official inquiry underway.

Biden in Detroit

Vice President Joe Biden has been out on the campaign trail. He rallied teachers in Detroit Sunday. That’s where the American Federation of Teachers is holding its annual convention. "Biden went after Mitt Romney and Republicans in Congress for budget plans that would slash federal education spending. He said Republicans have consistently opposed proposals to keep teachers and other public employees on the job through the economic downturn," Sarah Cwiek reports.

Detroit Institute of Arts vote

Voters in three counties will soon decide the fate of a tax millage for the Detroit Institute of Arts. Museum officials say the DIA could shut down if a 10 year property tax doesn't pass. Voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties will decide August 7th. The museum no longer receives state funding. But Critics say the DIA's campaign exaggerates the museum's financial struggles. The property tax would bring in roughly 230 million dollars over 10 years. Residents in counties that approve it will get free admission to the museum.

If what I am about to tell you doesn’t make you angry and indignant, then you must be  completely cynical.

Huge corporations and other special interests have already spent $20 million on ballot drives designed to bend the  Michigan Constitution to suit their selfish needs.

They have spent $20 million; they’ve raised almost $30 million, and every sign indicates they’re just getting started.

These numbers, by the way, come from the  non-profit, non-partisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Rich Robinson is Michigan's campaign finance guru. He unravels the complex web of politics and money, and explains to reporters who's spending what in Michigan, and why. Read this profile of him here, which includes an interview with Michigan Radio's Lester Graham.

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