Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

January 5, 2014

Jack Lessenberry: Snyder's secrecy shift leans right

Four years ago, running for governor, Rick Snyder took a strong stand against secrecy in campaign donations.

“All electioneering communications — broadcast, print and telephonic — that feature the name or image of a candidate for office or ballot initiative should be considered expenditures subject to appropriate disclosure requirements,” he proclaimed.

Then, last week, the governor broke his word.

Late on the afternoon of Dec. 27, when voters were celebrating the holidays and press attention was minimal, Snyder signed a bill that would allow special interests to keep their spending secret.

Rich Robinson, executive director of the non-partisan, non-profit Michigan Campaign Finance Network, called the governor’s signing of the bill “disappointing” and “a disgrace … that will probably lead to even less transparency and accountability in Michigan politics than we have seen over the last decade.”

The new law, Public Act 252, also doubles the amount of money individuals can give to individual political campaigns, and, in a sop to those promoting reforms, requires both more frequent reporting of campaign spending, and says those behind the much-hated “robocalls” have to identify who they are.

But the key point of the bill was to make sure those who have sometimes spent millions to smear a candidate, usually by falsely representing their stands on issues, could continue to keep their identities secret. Four years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, in its highly controversial and now-famous Citizens United decision, that there could be essentially no limits on campaign spending.

However, the high court did say said states could compel full disclosure of who gives how much to whom. In fact, eight of the nine judges essentially urged full disclosure. Even Justice Antonin Scalia said “Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.”

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