Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Thursday

March 21, 2013

Phil Power: Sunshine Week didn't shine

Last week was National Sunshine Week, designed to draw attention to the need for openness and transparency in government.

And there’s no doubt that exposing the workings of government and politics to healthy daylight makes things cleaner and better.

Yet over the years, I’ve watched National Sunshine Weeks come and go without much actually changing. So sadly, I’m more than a bit skeptical about the chances of two proposals to improve campaign donation reporting that surfaced last week.

One, a package of 18 bills from the minority Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives, would ban elected officials from lobbying for two years after leaving office, require a candidate who switches parties to pay back any contributions collected before the switch and, among other things, prohibit foreign-controlled corporations from making “independent” expenditures in campaigns.

In introducing the package, House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) said citizens deserve to know what’s going on, who’s doing what and who’s paying for it. But Ari Adler, spokesman for House Republicans, said the legislation does not provide true reform because labor unions would be largely exempt from the proposed new requirements.

Since the GOP controls both houses of the Legislature, this package isn’t going anywhere. Meanwhile, Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, the Republican incumbent, says she wants to require political campaigns to report contributions within 48 hours of having received them. Under current law, state campaigns and committees for or against ballot issues only have to report contributions in January and again before and after the primary and general elections. As a result, tons of money gets slipped into the political process before anybody knows anything about it.

Johnson, who presumably will be running for re-election next year, would have any ballot issue contribution more than $1,000 reported within two days, and be posted online and completely available to the citizens in three. She also proposed the same requirement for candidates for state offices, as well as mayors, township trustees and other city officials.

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