Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

December 5, 2013

Phil Power: Clean up state's dark money mess

Three weeks ago, before the political life of Michigan got interrupted for important things (Thanksgiving, turkey, football) we were treated to a bombshell from Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

Responding to a request by the State Bar of Michigan to require public disclosure of donors who sponsor millions in so-called “issue ads” in judicial elections, Johnson (a GOP officeholder elected in 2010) proposed to issue a new rule outlawing anonymous spending on all political ads, whether or not they actually use words of express advocacy — vote for, vote against, and so forth.

That shook up her Republican colleagues, big-time. The very next day — after an emergency sudden closed-door recess — the Republican-dominated Committee on Local Government and Elections committee adopted, without any public discussion, a bill that would gut Johnson’s proposed reporting requirement.

The full Senate, more than two-thirds of whose members are also Republican, agreed within less than 24 hours — remarkable speed for a normally “deliberative” body.

Money has long been recognized to be the mother’s milk of politics, and it is clear that many of those feeding are unwilling to be weaned. A top state elected Republican official gets slapped down by an alarmed Republican-dominated state Senate.

Political reformers are screaming bloody murder. And all eyes are now focused on Gov. Rick Snyder, whose “vision” statement back when he was running in 2010 said:

“Michigan’s citizens are tired of the divisive political culture in Lansing. Midnight deals, closed door meetings, lobbyists, and special interest influence have stood in the way of long-term solutions. As governor, I will ensure that government is open, fair, and accountable to the citizens by making Michigan a national leader in transparency and ethics.”

The question now is: Will the Michigan House of Representatives — still Republican, but by a much narrower margin - pass this bill? And if they do… will Snyder sign or veto it?

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