Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 10, 2012

Editorial: Acme leads way in violations


---- — As if we needed more proof that Michigan's campaign finance laws are essentially toothless, here comes — again — Acme Township.

A pro-development slate that was swept into office in Tuesday's primary election violated Michigan campaign finance laws, according to County Clerk Linda Coburn. She said the PAC accepted several contributions that violated the state's $500 limit on township elections

She was to meet Monday with the political committee Acme Changes Together and its slate of candidates to address numerous mistakes with campaign statement documents. If it turns out she's right about the errors, the PAC will have to return the money and fix the remaining errors.

"They have so many things wrong with it," Coburn said. "Hopefully, they'll come in Monday. If not, there's not much I can do. There's no real teeth in the campaign finance act."

But it's all a moot point now, of course. The Acme Changes Together slate cruised to victory Tuesday and will control five of seven votes on the board. Supervisor candidate Jay Zollinger won easily while Connie Collett defeated incumbent Treasurer Linda Wikle. Gordon La Pointe, Amy Jenema, and Doug White earned trustee spots along, as did incumbent Paul Scott. Christine Bassett was unopposed for clerk. They face no Democratic opposition in November.

Between five and seven people gave more than the $500 limit to the organization, some $2,000 or more, but Coburn said she can't tell exactly because of the way the form was filled out. In at least one case, for instance, it was unclear whether an individual gave $500 or $700.

The PAC's finance statement lists a grand total of $14,465 in donations. Acme Citizens for Responsible Growth raised $3,975 for its own group of township board hopefuls, according to its report.

These aren't just minor infractions, a few dollars here or there. Some donors shattered the state limit by as much as 400 percent or more. And donating $2,000 for a township election is just the kind of money-talks overkill we're seeing nationally as so-called "Super PACs" are pouring $100 million into presidential campaigns.

There are no excuses here. PACs are given lots of information about what the law says and what is and isn't allowed. They are obligated to know and follow the law.

Dennis Stadel, Acme Changes Together's treasurer, could not be reached for comment last week.

That this happened in Acme, where Meijer Inc. paid thousands to manipulate township elections a few years ago and more than $4 million to settle lawsuits rising from those actions, is incomprehensible.