Se­nate OKs un­lim­ited po­lit­i­cal giv­ing by groups

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BYJONATHAN OOST­ING Detroit News Lans­ing Bureau

Lans­ing — Michi­gan’s Repub­li­can-led Se­nate ap­proved con­tro­ver­sial leg­is­la­tion Thurs­day that would let can­di­dates raise un­lim­ited money for su­per po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees that sup­port them and share con­sul­tants.

The bills would write su­per PACs into state law fol­low­ing a land­mark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing in Cit­i­zens United v. FEC that opened the doors for in­creased po­lit­i­cal spend­ing by cor­po­ra­tions and la­bor unions as a form of free speech.

Sup­port­ers con­tend the leg­is­la­tion would “cod­ify” that rul­ing. But crit­ics have dubbed it “Cit­i­zens United on steroids,” ar­gu­ing it goes be­yond the rul­ing and would blur the lines be­tween can­di­dates and in­de­pen­dent groups.

The two-bill pack­age would cre­ate a new class of “in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture com­mit­tees” that could raise and spend un­lim­ited funds in elec­tions. The su­per PACs could not co­or­di­nate di­rectly with cam­paigns, but the pro­posal would al­low them to share at- tor­neys, con­sul­tants and ven­dors with can­di­dates they sup­port.

“Ev­ery­body should have free speech, and the Supreme Court has said that free speech equals money and what you give,” said Sen. Ma­jor­ity Leader Ar­lan Meekhof, R-West Olive.

The leg­is­la­tion passed the up­per cham­ber in a 23-12 vote. Repub­li­can Sens. Mar­garet O’Brien of Portage and Tory Rocca of Ster­ling Heights joined all 10 Democrats in vot­ing against the mea­sure. The Repub­li­can-led House is ex­pected to take up the mea­sure next week.

“Cit­i­zens United rigged the sys­tem in fa- vor of huge cor­po­ra­tions, mon­eyed in­ter­ests and the wealthy and gave them undo con­trol over our elec­tions, gov­ern­ment pol­icy and elec­tions,” said state Sen. Re­bekah War­ren, D-Ann Ar­bor. “Se­nate Bill 335 is go­ing even fur­ther.”

Craig Mauger, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the watch­dog Michi­gan Cam­paign Fi­nance Net­work, has warned the pro­posal could un­der­mine strict lim­its on di­rect con­tri­bu­tions to can­di­dates by al­low­ing them to raise un­lim­ited money for what are sup­posed to be in­de­pen­dent groups.

The two-bill pack­age would al­low state can­di­dates to so­licit un­lim­ited con­tri­bu­tions for su­per PACs, go­ing be­yond Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion rules that al­low fed­eral can­di­dates to raise up to $5,000 for a su­per PAC.

“The bot­tom line is, this makes the swamp even swampier, and it feeds the swamp mon­sters even more,” said Sen. Steve Bieda, D-War­ren, echo­ing Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign calls to “drain the swamp” in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Ap­proval came one week af- ter Michi­gan Sec­re­tary of State Ruth John­son’s of­fice said it had made a “good faith ef­fort” to pro­vide a rea­son­able reg­u­la­tory frame­work for su­per PAC rules but en­cour­aged leg­is­la­tors to make “long over­due” leg­isla­tive changes to con­form with the Cit­i­zens United rul­ing.

GOP at­tor­ney Bob LaBrant asked John­son to clar­ify rules gov­ern­ing su­per PAC donors, warn­ing that if the state ad­hered to a lit­tle-known 2014 en­force­ment ac­tion, cor­po­ra­tions and la­bor groups could be fac­ing an “avalanche of cam­paign fi­nance fines” for past su­per PAC con­tri­bu­tions.

John­son’s of­fice down­played that risk in a draft in­ter­pre­tive state­ment, say­ing there was am­bi­gu­ity in the law but that it has usu­ally not is­sued fail­ure to file and late fil­ing fee no­tices to en­ti­ties that con­trib­ute to su­per PACs from their own trea­sury funds.

Meekhof dis­missed con­cerns raised by Democrats re­gard­ing the grow­ing role of money in pol­i­tics.

“I’m sure the Democrats take ad­van­tage of this just like we do,” he told re­porters af­ter the vote. “I don’t think it’s Demo­crat or Repub­li­can. All peo­ple have free speech, re­gard­less of how they’re or­ga­nized, and that in­cludes unions.”


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