Millions spent in issue campaigns means 'dark days for democracy'

The watchdogs over at the Michigan Campaign Finance Network have been hard at work pumping out press releases intended to keep the rest of us abreast of what's going on when it comes to the funding of various political campaigns.

The Lansing-based nonprofit is an important resource, doing the sort of number-crunching that causes the eyes of normal human beings to quickly glaze over.

Some of what the group, headed by Rich Robinson, is finding is truly astounding — and disturbing.

In regard to ballot measures, the biggest spenders so far have been the labor unions supporting the proposed Protect Our Jobs initiative, which seeks voter approval of a state constitutional amendment that guarantees the right to collective bargaining. Unions representing autoworkers, teachers, electricians, carpenters and others, as well as the Michigan Democratic Party, have so far raised a jaw-dropping $8.1 million.

In all, reports the MCFN, "just 12 committees have raised $29.3 million — and already spent $20 million — in initial financial activity surrounding seven ballot questions that may be decided by the Michigan electorate in November."

Emphasis should be put on the word may, considering the challenge to the Stand Up for Democracy referendum, and the potential impact that it could have on all seven proposed ballot measures.

Just as labor is spending big in a fight for self-preservation, the Detroit International Bridge Company has opened its corporate wallet in an attempt to keep a competing publicly owned span from being built downriver from its Ambassador Bridge.

The DIBC, controlled by billionaire Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his family, has so far kicked in more than $4.6 million to fund the People Should Decide, a proposal that seeks public approval for any government involvement in construction of any future international bridge.

In the race for the presidency, reports the MCFN, "the presidential air war is playing out in Michigan without participation of the candidates' campaign committees. Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney has paid for television advertising in Michigan since the presidential primary on Feb. 28."

Instead, what we are seeing has been "a one-sided attack against the administration and policies of President Barack Obama, funded by 501(c)(4) nonprofit "social welfare" corporations that will not disclose their donors. Americans for Prosperity, American Future Fund, 60 Plus Alliance, American Energy Alliance and Crossroads GPS have spent $5.8 million for candidate "issue" advertisements designed to emphasize one issue: the unsuitability of Barack Obama to be re-elected president."

It's a chilling situation.

"What we're seeing is the demise of accountability in federal political campaigns," Robinson explains. "This well-funded, highly coordinated campaign hid the identity of those who provided more than 90 percent of the money behind it."

So much for transparency. 

Or, in the words of Robinson, "These are extremely dark days for democracy."


News Hits is written by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004.

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