campaign finance

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Broadcasters are fighting a new rule to disclose more about who’s buying political ads. The Federal Communications Commission wants TV stations to post information about the political ads they air on a government website.

That will make it a lot easier to find out what groups are spending money to influence voters.

Recently, I met Rich Robinson in the parking lot of his office in Lansing. He was taking me on a little trip.

It appears a superPAC and other political groups are coordinating their purchases of TV ads running in Michigan.  This means a more efficient use of secret money to influence voters.

Michigan TV stations across the state are running a series of ads critical of President Obama and his administration.

Here's an example of one of the ads.

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Elected state officials in Michigan can be more secretive about money than federal officials. At the state level, the disclosure laws on money and politics make it easier to hide conflicts of interest and influence on politicians.

When Governor Rick Snyder delivered his State of the State address last January, he tucked into it a quick mention about making state government more open.

Michigan State Capitol
Jimmy Emerson / Flickr

Every Thursday we speak with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

This week it’s all about campaign finance. Michigan Radio’s Jennifer White discusses the money behind presidential and state races.

Failed Reform

Mar 19, 2012

I heard something last week that gave me a little bit of hope our state might be moving towards slightly more open and honest politics.  Jocelyn Benson, a law professor at Wayne State, is leading a drive to amend the Michigan Constitution to require complete and immediate disclosure of corporate campaign contributions.

Doing that would make a lot of sense. Two years ago, a lot of people, including me, were dismayed when the United States Supreme Court ruled that no limits could be placed on campaign contributions made by either corporations or unions.

Jocelyn Benson announcing the launch of a ballot campaign to require corporations to disclose their political spending on the steps of the state Capitol in Lansing.
Rick Pluta / MPRN

Corporations would have to report their spending on political advertising and lobbying under a proposed amendment to the state constitution. Organizers announced the drive today, although they won’t start gathering signatures until later this month.

All amendments to the state constitution must be approved by voters.

A 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on their own political ads. The court says it’s up to states to decide whether to require disclosure.

Jocelyn Benson was the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2010 for Michigan Secretary of State, and is leading the effort to adopt the amendment.

“It’s really important when you think about our role not just as voters, but as consumers – when we buy products, we deserve and we have a right to know if the money we spend on companies or on products are being spent to influence political campaigns or lobby elected officials. This amendment would create that right,” said Benson.

The amendment would require companies to immediately disclose any spending for a political purpose, and where the money came from. Benson’s campaign is aiming for the November ballot.

The Associated Press reports that "backers have until July 9 to collect the 322,609 signatures needed to get the measure on the November ballot."

user tobym / Flickr

This election year, money will drive the conversation in politics more than usual because of  recent Supreme Court decisions. They opened the floodgates of cash, allowing groups called Super PACs to spend unlimited amounts in support of federal candidates. We’re getting just a small sampling during the presidential primary.  This fall, Michigan will see a lot of money from outside the state coming in to buy tons of ads—most of them negative—to sway voters here.

Money can’t vote. But it certainly can affect the outcome of an election. And that bothers voters such as William Mayor.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State House Democrats say it’s time to beef up Michigan’s campaign finance and political ethics laws.

House Democrats unveiled a set of proposals that include a constitutional amendment that would require corporations to disclose political and lobbying activity, and a measure that would prevent state lawmakers from being lobbyists in the state for two years after a political term.

 “Every year that goes by that we have not passed meaningful reform is another year that the bad actors in the state are allowed to spend money to influence public opinion with little or no accountability,” said State House Democratic Floor Leader Kate Segal.

Ari Adler is the press secretary for Republican state House Speaker Jase Bolger.

Adler says at first glance he’s not impressed.

“Saying you support better campaign finance and ethics laws is like saying you support the sun coming up tomorrow. It’s difficult to argue with the concept, but the devil is in the details, and we need time to look at them,” said Adler.

Adler says he is particularly concerned that labor unions are exempt from some of the disclosure proposals.

Democrats say unions are already required to follow federal financial disclosure laws, and corporations in Michigan should be held just as accountable.

Democratic House Minority Leader Richard Hammel said their measure addresses one of Governor Rick Snyder’s key concerns for 2012.

“The governor touched on it when he called for campaign finance and ethics reform in the state, in his State of the State address,” said Hammel. “It has now been two weeks since that address, and we have yet to see majority Republicans hold any hearings on the changes the governor said are needed.”

A spokesman for House Republicans said the package of bills would need major changes before winning bipartisan support.

Rick Pluta / Michigan Radio

An end-of-the-year campaign finance statement shows Governor Rick Snyder took more than $800,000 from his campaign account last year. He used the money to partially repay himself for cash he lent the campaign while running for office.

Governor Snyder worked for just one dollar last year. But he did take $825,000 from his campaign account to partially pay himself back for $6 million in loans from his personal fortune to his campaign. Seven payments last year were a start toward reimbursing the retired tech executive and venture capitalist.

The numbers are unusually large, but it is a common practice for politicians to lend their campaigns money and then re-pay themselves after the election.

The Snyder campaign money came primarily from individual contributions of up to $3,400. The governor does not accept PAC donations.

At the December 31st book-closing, the Rick Snyder for Michigan Fund had $534,000.

The governor has indicated he intends to seek reelection in 2014.

Photozou

Next year is an election year. That means lots of campaign literature in the mail, lots of ads on the television,   and, maybe worst of all, robo-calls. Those are the recorded calls that automatically dial your phone…usually right at dinner time. There are a lot of them now, but there could be a lot more in the future.

Even one of the guys who makes robo-calls happen knows most people don’t really like them.

“Everybody hates them. I think that they’re universally hated.”

They came so close and I was really hopeful for a while. But in the end, they just weren’t good enough.

I hope you were disappointed too. Wait a minute -- did you think I was talking about the Detroit Tigers?

I don’t know whatever gave you that idea. What I‘m talking about are the campaign finance reforms unveiled yesterday by Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

I have been complaining for a long time about our campaign finance laws. It’s bad enough that it often costs several times an official’s salary to run for office.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson says she is calling for tougher campaign finance laws.

The Republican says Wednesday her plan would create felony charges for the worst violators of Michigan's campaign finance regulations. Felony penalties and harsher fines could be charged in
some circumstances for failing to file regular reports of fundraising and spending activity.

Johnson said her proposals also seek filing requirements to try and prevent clandestine efforts such as a "Tea Party" that unsuccessfully sought to put candidates on the 2010 ballot in Michigan. The effort was widely considered to be a fake and didn't have support from tea party activists.

Republican state lawmakers say they are introducing bills aimed at achieving some of Johnson's goals.

The Michigan Democratic Party said Johnson's proposals would be ineffective.

user: AMagill / flickr

Third quarter fundraising results are being reported by those in the race for Michigan’s U.S. Senate seat. Here to to look at why the money matters are Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants and Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service.

We also talk about Governor Rick Snyder's comments about his decision to run for a second term.

 

Once upon a time, I was in a social studies class in eighth grade, and we were studying how our system of government works. We were told that in America, we had free elections.

Candidates ran for various offices, and in each case the people decided which had the best ideas and seemed to be the best qualified. We then voted, and the candidate who convinced the most people they were the best man or, occasionally, woman, won.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney outraised his GOP competitors and President Obama in Michigan during the second quarter of this year, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Romney raised $884,124 in the quarter that ended June 30th, while President Obama raised $393,428. Romney is a Michigan native whose father, George W. Romney, was Michigan’s 43rd Governor.

Republicans trailing behind Romney were Texas Congressman Ron Paul with $46,106; former Governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty with $22,450; businessman Hermain Cain with $16,100; Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann with $10,185; former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich with $9,775; former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum with $1,650; and former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson with $1,500.

Studio08Denver / Flickr

A campaign finance document U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow is filing with the Federal Elections Commission shows the Michigan Democrat has $4 million in the bank for next year's re-election race. The Associated Press on Tuesday obtained a copy of Stabenow's July quarterly report. It's due to the FEC by Friday.

The report says Stabenow raised $1.46 million in the period that ran from April 1 to June 30 and has $4.08 million on hand in the run for her third term in the Senate.

Former Kent County Probate Judge Randy Hekman and Roscommon businessman Peter Konetchy are in the race on the GOP side. A number of high-profile Republicans have decided against challenging Stabenow. They include ex-U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra and former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.

A fundraiser-related email from Gov. Rick Snyder's administration breaks the law, according to an article by the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

More from the article:

Area Democrats want to know why Gov. Rick Snyder used his staff and local county governments to spread invitations to a Grand Traverse County Republican Party fundraiser.

Maurice Kelman ought to be feeling proud today, For years, the retired Wayne State law professor has been waging a lonely battle to get Michigan to enforce what weak campaign finance laws we have.

Specifically, he’s been focusing on the case of one Kwame Kilpatrick, who needs no introduction. Kelman discovered two years ago that the felonious ex-mayor used nearly a million dollars from his campaign fund to pay the lawyers who were trying to keep him out of prison during the text messaging scandal.

A new report says anonymous donors have a growing influence in Michigan election campaigns.

The study by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network says independent groups that don’t have to reveal their donors spent $23 million on political ads last year.

The report shows both Governor Rick Snyder and his Democratic opponent, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, were among the candidates for statewide office who were aided by ads paid for by unknown donors to independent political committees.

The use of independent and untraceable ads is especially prevalent in state Supreme Court races, says Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Robinson says the donors may be invisible to the public, but they still want something for the money they are spending to support or oppose politicians:

"Whether it's a workplace regulation, an environmental deregulation, a budget earmark, a public works project, a tax not levied, whatever it is, and I don’t think we’re seeing half the story on the money that’s moving public policy."

Robinson says, in some cases, ads paid for by anonymous donors made up half the spending in a race, and that $70 million was spent on untraceable and independent election ads over the past decade.

"In all of these campaigns, voters have an interest in knowing who the real supporters of the candidates are," said Robinson. "It’s a mechanism for controlling quid pro quo corruption in politics."

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network is calling for a law to require independent groups that buy campaign or issue advocacy ads to identify their donors.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow involving Meijer officials who may have violated state campaign finance law.

The company financed a public relations campaign to kick out village trustees who opposed Meijer’s plans to build a new store in their community.   The move may have violated Michigan’s campaign finance law, which bars corporations and their agents from making campaign contributions. The Grand Traverse Eagle has done a great job covering the case. 

 Alan Schneider is Grand Traverse County Prosecutor.  He’s wanted to pursue an investigation against the Meijer officials.  But attorneys for the Meijer officials involved say only the Secretary of State’s office has the authority to prosecute campaign finance cases.   Alan Schneider says the Michigan Supreme Court must decide who’s right.

“If there’s a crime, that’s a state crime, we are obligated to prosecute.”    

The whole issue could be moot.   Last year, the US Supreme Court struck down federal laws barring corporations from making political contributions. 

Meanwhile, Meijer has paid millions of dollars in settlements to the state and the targeted village trustees.

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