Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

December 13, 2013

Campaign bills win final OK from Mich. Legislature

Campaign bills win final OK in Legislature

LANSING — On their last day of voting before an election year, Michigan lawmakers moved Thursday to raise maximum contributions to candidates for the first time in decades and keep intact rules so donors behind certain political ads can stay anonymous.

The main campaign-finance bill won final approval along party lines in the Republican-led Senate after barely clearing the GOP-controlled House a day earlier.

Donation limits to candidates would double after going unchanged for 37 years and rise with inflation over time. Legislative caucus committees could accept higher amounts for the first time since 1995.

The legislation also would codify that spending on issue ads, which define a candidate’s suitability for office without specifically calling for their election or defeat, aren’t subject to campaign-finance reporting.

If Gov. Rick Snyder signs the bill, it thwarts Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s plan to require disclosure of individual donors to the ads like is mandated with ads urging voters to support or oppose candidates.

“I’m glad I was able to bring this issue to the public for more discourse and that the Legislature voted to increase disclosure in elections,” said Johnson, whose move last month infuriated GOP-friendly groups. “The increased candidate committee reporting (in non-election years) and expanding electronic reporting to locals are positive steps toward transparency and accountability.”

Critics such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce say Johnson’s rule would violate free speech and association rights and conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court. But the Michigan Campaign Finance Network watchdog organization contends that lawmakers shouldn’t allow “dark” spending in state campaigns to continue.

Democrats voted against the bill.

“In the 2010 election, 99.99 percent of Michiganders did not max out the amount of money they could give to a campaign,” said Rep. Theresa Abed of Grand Ledge. “There’s absolutely no reason to double these maximums except to allow special interests to overly influence the outcome of elections.”

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