Traverse City Record-Eagle


January 16, 2014

Phil Power: Better to get things done with one party?

Last Sunday, the New York Times published an in-depth article on the rapidly growing number of states in which one political party — usually the GOP — controls all of state government.

That’s now the case in Michigan, where Republican Rick Snyder is governor and the GOP runs both houses of the Legislature, and has a majority on the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Times article traces the machinations of both political parties in setting up elaborate national networks that raise, distribute and deploy millions — mostly secret and unreported — aimed at one-party domination of state governments.

And it is working. There’s now single party control of the governorship and legislature in 36 of the 50 states, the most in 60 years. Of those, Democrats rule in 13, Republicans in 23.

Here’s how this worked in Michigan in 2010, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a non-partisan watchdog group headed by Rich Robinson. A political action committee set up by the national Republican Governors Association raised $8.4 million, virtually all from wealthy out-of-state donors. Most of this money was transferred to the Michigan Republican Party.

Meanwhile, Michigan political donors sent $8.5 million back to the Republican Governors Association, roughly what the group then spent in “independent” advertising to help elect Rick Snyder, on top of the money transferred directly to the Michigan GOP.

Rich Robinson says he thinks the system was designed to help Michigan Republican business contributors, who could not give directly to the Snyder campaign, exchange their money for contributions from out-of-state individual donors, who legally could donate. Robinson thinks the system was designed to hide the actual sources of money from public disclosure and to grease a political system increasingly funded by big checks from donors far away.

With mid-term elections coming up this year in every state, including Michigan, this system shows how clear-eyed and sophisticated today’s political donors are in realizing they’ll get more bang for their bucks by focusing on state elections than on persistent partisan trench warfare in Washington.

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