Traverse City Record-Eagle

Our Views

December 15, 2013

Editorial: Snyder has opportunity to act for transparency

Every once in a great while, someone in the political class has an idea that makes so much sense you know it is doomed.

Such was the case with a recent suggestion by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who proposed requiring public disclosure of most third-party campaign spending. While that sounds like a common-sense regulation most of us would embrace — and many likely think is already the law — the state Legislature thought otherwise.

Just hours after Johnson made her proposed rule change public, a state senate committee considering a bill by state Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, that would require officeholders to file more frequent campaign finance reports and double limits on campaign contributions, took a recess.

During that recess — behind closed doors and without a public hearing or public notice of any kind — the committee amended the Meekhof bill to also stipulate that campaign contribution disclosures would be required only when ads explicitly urge a vote for or against a particular candidate.

The reality, of course, is that the vast majority of campaign ads in Michigan don’t specify a candidate or urge a vote for or against someone. They are instead so-called “issue ads” and thus would not be subject to disclosure.

Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act statute called for disclosure whenever there was clear inference of support for (or opposition to) a candidate.

But former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land — who is now seeking the Republican nomination to run for the U.S. Senate from Michigan — ruled in 2003 that disclosure was required only if a campaign ad used “express advocacy” and named names. Robinson said Land decreed that all other ads were “issue ads” and exempt from any requirement to reveal who paid for them.

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