Traverse City Record-Eagle

Meijer-Acme Township Dispute

January 21, 2010

12:05 pm: Court ruling won't halt Meijer probe

TRAVERSE CITY — A U.S. Supreme Court's decision to lift caps on corporate political spending in federal elections could limit — but not cripple — a criminal probe in Grand Traverse County.

Grand Traverse Prosecutor Alan Schneider said the Supreme Court's decision today will impact his office's ability to proceed with a criminal case against Meijer and others involved in 2005 and 2007 elections in Acme Township.

The court's decision overturns Section 54 of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act that prohibits corporate funding of candidate campaigns, he said. That decision applies to a 2007 recall election in Acme Township in which Meijer illegally funneled tens of thousands of dollars to groups to try to depose the township board.

Violations of Section 54 were a felony under state law, and would have allowed prosecutors to utilize investigative subpoenas to compel testimony from unwilling witnesses. Now, Schneider said his office won't be able to utilize investigative subpoenas to probe Meijer's corporate donations.

But Schneider said he could pursue up to 25 other criminal violations that are spelled out in state campaign finance laws. Meijer currently is appealing a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling that allowed Schneider's office to continue the Acme probe.

"The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court does not in any way render that appeal moot," Schneider said.

The nation's top court threw out the 63-year-old law that was designed to restrain the influence of big business and unions on elections. They ruled that corporations may spend as freely as they like to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress.

The decision could drastically alter who gives and gets hundreds of millions of dollars in this year's crucial midterm elections.

By a 5-4 vote, the court overturned two of its own decisions as well as the decades-old law that said companies and labor unions can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to produce and run their own campaign ads. The decision threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.

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