Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

November 15, 2013

GOP split over disclosing ad funding sources

LANSING (AP) — Hours after Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson proposed requiring political parties and other interests to disclose individual donors who pay for certain election ads, the state Senate moved quickly to keep intact the existing rules so contributors stay anonymous.

Gov. Rick Snyder may ultimately have to resolve the showdown among Republicans, which came as GOP senators also narrowly voted to double campaign donation limits that have gone unchanged for 37 years. Spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said the Republican governor has taken no position on requiring campaign-finance reporting for “issue” ads.

“The governor believes free speech is important and so is transparency,” she said. “This issue is how to balance and ensure both.”

Michigan says only ads urging voters to support or oppose a candidate are subject to campaign-finance reporting. Issue ads, or “electioneering communications,” that define a candidate’s suitability for office without directly calling for a yes or no vote are exempt under a 2004 statement from Johnson’s predecessor, Terri Lynn Land, which was based on a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Johnson said the usually negative ads, which often encourage voters to contact candidates, meet the letter but not spirit of the law.

“People very much support, want and deserve transparency,” she told reporters after filing a new administrative rule to require sponsors of issue ads to file reports and meet disclosure requirements.

But Senate Republicans hastily changed a campaign finance bill in committee to codify that spending on issue ads is not subject to reporting. The Senate then approved the bill on a 20-18 vote, with six Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.

The legislation goes to the GOP-led House.

To justify the new rule, which could take more than a year for regulatory approval, state elections director Chris Thomas said much has changed since the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling that allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts independent of candidates.

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