Snyder Signs Into Law Unlimited Campaign Contributions

Governor Rick Snyder was apparently in an even bigger rush than the legislature on a bill allowing unlimited contributions to campaigns that advocate for candidates but can’t explicitly cooperate with those candidates for elected office, as he has officially signed that bill into law one day after the House vote to send it to his desk.

Snyder, in a statement on his decision to support the bill, relied on the same mentality that legislative Republicans have used to justify creating the bill in the first place in that it merely codifies a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court from 2010 that said it would be a violation of freedom of speech should such restrictions exist otherwise.

Craig Mauger with the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network had previously told the Great Lakes Beacon that Snyder ran on a platform in 2010 denouncing such influence of money in politics and it would remain to be seen how he handled this ethics test.

But if history was any measure, Snyder was bound to sign it, as he’s done with other, similar campaign finance matters. In 2013, for example, he signed into law legislation that doubled Michigan’s existing contribution caps from individuals and independent political action committees and index them to inflation.

While it did require candidate committees to file two new campaign finance reports in non-election years, it also codifies generally understood rules that had not technically been written into law for “issue ads,” which tend to feature attacks or promotions of a candidate but does not instruct viewers or readers to “vote for” or “vote against” a certain candidate. Groups that run those ads or do robocalls have say who they are authorized by, but they don’t have to disclose their donors.

That’s where the law that Snyder signed today comes into play. Those ads are often funded by what’s known as SuperPACs (political action committees). Under what will now be law in Michigan, millions or more could be donated to those committees that is not required to be disclosed yet indirectly can impact a candidate or issue’s rate of success.

Michigan ranks dead last in transparency among all 50 states, according to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity. See our full interview with Mauger and the Michigan Campaign Finance Network in our previous story on the bill signed by the governor below. More of their research on money in politics can be found on their website, here.

Original story published Tuesday, September 19:

The state House wasted no time today in passing a bill that would allow unlimited contributions to independent expenditure committees, known as SuperPACs, which advocate for candidates but can’t coordinate with that candidate for elected office.

The bill (SB 335) dubbed by critics as “Citizens United on steroids,” is a bill that proponents say merely codifies what the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC, a landmark decision dating back to 2010 that determined freedom of speech prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by nonprofits, for-profit corporations, labor unions and other associations.

“The more the campaign finance system is titled to a small number of donors that can write the largest checks, there’s a risk the policies that follow could also be tilted to those donors with the ability to write the highest checks,” Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN), which tracks the influence of money in politics, said of this bill’s danger.

The MCFN has done extensive research on lobbyist spending on elected officials and has found record-level contributions to candidates for elected office. The unlimited, secretive spending now possible if the bill is signed into law may compound existing problems, as Michigan’s transparency laws are the worst – indeed, 50th of 50 – in the nation, according research by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity.

Mauger said the everyday citizen “should care deeply” what happens when money infiltrates politics, because more often than not, that can impact policy, which can then affect peoples’ lives.

The bill passed the Senate last Thursday in a 23-12 vote, with all Democrats present and two Republicans also voting no. Overall, it took less than a week for the bill to head to Snyder’s desk from when the Senate decided to bring the bill up and move it to today.

The bill was led by Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc), who will be term-limited from serving in the legislature after the 2018 election, but Republican Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton Township will be running for governor, and Republicans Sen. Ken Horn of Frankenmuth, Sen. Marty Knollenberg of Troy, Sen. Peter MacGregor of Rockford, Sen. Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City, Sen. Jim Stamas of Midland and Sen. Dale Zorn of Ida are all anticipated to run for re-election and supported the bill’s passage.

In the House, the bill passed on a mostly party-line vote of 62-45. All Democrats and Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy) voted no on the bill.

The bill now heads to Governor Rick Snyder, whom Mauger said “railed against the amount of money in our political system” when he first ran in 2010.

“He even proposed some strict guidelines for independent expenditures … even that contributions to (political action committees) be limited,” Mauger said. “It’s now in front of him, and it’s going to be another test of his take on ethics policy.”

Danielle Emerson

Danielle Emerson

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