Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

July 7, 2013

George Weeks: Dark money fuels Mich. political campaigns

"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." —The Wizard of Oz

As activities escalate toward Michigan’s 2014 elections, there’s a timely lesson to be learned from a watchdog’s startling report on record spending and the continuing trend of diminishing accountability in 2012 campaigns.

“Descending into Dark Money” was the wellphrased cover title on the recent annual Citizen’s Guide released by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Michigan Given the increasing costs of campaigns across the nation, it was not surprising or alarming that overall Michigan spending topped $200 million, including a combined total of more than $154 million for and against the six ballot proposals — all of which lost.Another $4 million came from reported independent expenditures by political action committees (PACs) and the state political parties.

Worrisome are the Ozlike shadowy folks, as portrayed by MCFN, who contribute anonymously.

“We are victims of an anachronistic interpretation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act that allows unaccountable dark money to dominate our politics, “ MCFN Executive Director Rich Robinson said of a yearsago Michigan Secretary of State ruling. “Citizens should have the right to know whose money is driving critically important election outcomes, so they can evaluate how campaign spending correlates to policy outcomes.”

Robinson, who tirelessly travels the state collecting spending records from the public files of TV broadcasters and cable systems, revealed that unreported candidate-focused TV issue advertising in judicial and House campaigns added $18.3 million to the reported 2012 total.

The MCFN report said: “The diminishing accountability for campaign spending is best illustrated in two key judicial campaigns. In the Michigan Supreme Court campaign, the candidate committees reported raising $3.4 million, and reported independent expenditures were $1.6 million.

“That $5 million of reported activity was vastly overshadowed by $13.85 million of TV advertising about the candidates sponsored by the Michigan Republican Party, the Michigan Democratic Party and a DC-based nonprofit corporation called Judicial Crisis Network. There is no public record of whose contributions paid for the issue advertising.”

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