Campaign hell

Well, Happy New Fiscal Year! The domestic auto industry eliminated another 47,600 jobs last week (not counting more we don’t know about yet).

Michigan still has the worst economy anywhere in the nation, and the Federal Reserve just raised the interest rate, meaning your credit card payments will be going up again. If you have an adjustable rate mortgage, there is still a little room under several of the overpasses on the Lodge Freeway.

Help is on the way, however. Either L. Brooks Patterson, the Oakland County executive pushing a ballot measure,  or his many friends in the Legislature are just about to repeal the Single Business Tax, which provides money for frivolous state expenses like higher education. After that, Dick DeVos plans to buy himself the governorship, and give big business a tax cut large enough to enable them to ship their remaining equipment to all their new plants in Mexico.

So you see, there is hope; just not for us.

Speaking of the man who would be governor: DeVos has already spent— mostly on TV advertising — more than 30 times as much money as a governor makes in a year. And he is just warming up. Jennifer Granholm is outraged, mainly because she can’t get that kind of cash.

By the way, if you didn’t know this, gubernatorial campaigns in Michigan are supposed to be financed by the taxpayers. We passed legislation establishing this many years ago. The idea was to have campaigns that could be based on ideas, not cash, and to avoid having only rich candidates — or those who had sold their souls to corporate or other well-moneyed interests.

That worked for a little while. Four years ago, however, Granholm decided to “self-finance” her primary campaign, because she thought (correctly) she could get a lot more money that way. She did, and set an all-time spending record.

But this year, “Amway Dick” DeVos is spending the way God might, if Our Lord had been left a successful pyramid scheme business by his Father. However, help is on the way, as somebody actually told me a few days ago. State Rep. Chris Ward, a Brighton Republican, has introduced a package of bills designed to provide — ta da! — meaningful campaign finance reform!

Be still, my sloshing heart. Actually, my personal blood pump never even skipped a beat once I noticed that the sponsor of these bills was Chris Ward. That is the moral equivalent of Monica Lewinsky opening a charter school of chastity. If Chris were in another occupation, he might have a mattress strapped to his back. Here’s all you need to know about him. Michigan had a law for years saying that you couldn’t order a bottle of wine from a winery in, say, Napa Valley. The middlemen and their lobbyists were behind that.

Outraged, some wine connoisseurs took that all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that Michigan   couldn’t discriminate that way. Good old Chris gallantly stepped into the breach — and introduced a bill that would have prevented you and me from buying a bottle of wine from a Michigan winery! That is, not without going through a wholesaler first.

One guess who the major funding source of his last campaign was: The Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association. Naturally, Ward didn’t mention that at the time; he actually said he was doing it to spare the health of Michigan’s children, who presumably were about to order a single bottle of Lake Leelanau Riesling and then kill their siblings with shards of glass from the bottle.

Fortunately, he didn’t get away with it; a compromise was forged. “The system worked!” Wardie chirped brightly when I asked about it. And would his “reform” bills do anything about stopping other lawmakers from being owned, say, by beer and wine interests?  Naw, he admitted.

Last week, I read an excellent piece on what’s wrong with campaign finance rules in Michigan in the Northern Express, Traverse City’s alternative paper. In it, the brilliant Anne Stanton (all right, so she was my student many years ago) revealed that an Auburn Hills housewife named Linda Shea gave, out of the goodness of her heart, $40,000 to the political action committee of one Jason Allen, a politically ambitious Republican state senator from Traverse City.

Does, uh, like, her husband know? I wondered idly. Turns out he did indeed; he owns P.K. Contracting, which gets millions from the state for painting those lines on our highways.

Jason Allen is a likely bet to be the next majority leader, unless Yahweh allows the Democrats to take over the state Senate, and the lovely Linda undoubtedly wants to make sure that money for highway lines is in the budget, and that hubby gets the contracts again.

So, I asked our courageous Livingston County reformer, would your reforms forbid this kind of behavior? Well, no again, “but maybe if we get some bipartisan support that might be something we might want to look at.”

Turns out most of his “reforms” are actually aimed at limiting the activities of groups that favor Democrats, like labor unions. To be fair, old Chris does have a few ideas worth considering, like rules requiring more frequent reporting of where candidates get their money, and random audits of campaign committees.

But mainly his “reforms “are boilerplate you-know-what, for election year consumption and fragging the Democrats. He isn’t the problem, however; just another small symptom. The fact is that our political system is seriously broken. Nobody can run for most major offices — or even many minor ones — unless they are repulsively rich or can persuade special interests of one kind or another to spend lavishly on their campaigns.

And as Marlon Brando told me back when we were both still in the olive oil business, they seldom or never do that without expecting something for it.

Want campaign finance reform? Set spending limits, throw people in jail for violating them, and allot all candidates an equal share of airtime. The airwaves are public property; force the stations to provide this service.

That would go a long way toward creating an equal playing field. And you just know that’s what our elected leaders really want, right? That is, after all, the American way.


Patriot Games: Speaking of being patriotic — in case you are still celebrating the Glorious Fourth, and are feeling more 100 percent American than usual, here’s something that might amuse you.

Last week I talked to David Armour, a historian who is perhaps the world expert on Michigan during the American Revolution. When it was learned in 1783 that the United States had won and that Michigan was part of the new country, there was virtually no dissent. Everyone absolutely hated the idea.

“They were appalled,” Armour told me. “There was virtually no one who had any interest in being part of the new country.” Michigan was home then to about 10,000 Native Americans, who were staunchly pro-British, to the extent they were on any side at all.

The few thousand Europeans were mainly French — Michigan had been part of Quebec till 1763 — and probably wished they were back under King Louie. The rest were British settlers who couldn’t believe the diplomats at the Treaty of Paris had sold them out. They had no problems with King George, possibly because while some people thought he was mad, nobody thought he was a W.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]
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