More money than sense

Reading the new report put out by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, you could start to think that the loopholes in state law are so big it’s a waste of time and money even bothering to have politicians report their contributions.

But you don’t need to take our opinion. We’ll let the report speak for itself:

“In Michigan, campaign finance law seems to be stuck in a bygone era — complete with serious flaws. Corporations and unions are free to sponsor political advertising if they are careful with their language — and they don’t have to report their activity. Individuals can give unlimited amounts to parties and PACs, which then can spend without limits to support favored candidates. Political committees file reports electronically, but they report so infrequently that it is impossible for even an informed observer to follow the money while a policy debate is ongoing. Enforcement is pathetically weak. There are no investigations of apparent violations and penalties are only a minor cost of doing business.”

It’s hard to overstate the role cash plays in politics. As noted in the report, in the last three election cycles here in Michigan, the pols with the most bucks won 95 percent of the time.

One key reform the nonpartisan do-gooders at the Campaign Finance Network would like to see are restrictions placed on contributions to political action committees. There are limits to how much any one person can give a candidate, but those restrictions are easily sidestepped. You give a wad to some PAC or party, and they, in turn, make an unlimited contribution to the pol.

The group would like to see Michigan fall in line with federal campaign laws, which limit contributions to PACs and parties. The group also recommends a cap on total giving so someone can’t slide around the rules by giving to an unlimited number of like-interested groups.

A shining example is the Great Lakes Education Project, a PAC that supports candidates out to dismantle the public education system as we know it. The report says the group raised a whopping $825,000 last year from only 25 contributors, including $110,000 from Amway’s top-of-the-pyramid Dick and Betsy DeVos, and $100,000 each from none other than WalMart family heirs Jim and John Walton (the latter died in a Wyoming plane crash last week).

The group also assails the infrequency of reporting required: “State officeholders who do not face election file only one annual campaign finance report. In contrast, federal officeholders are required to file reports in non-election years.”

Rich Robinson, executive director of the group, says the lack of transparency is troubling. “People shouldn’t be able to spend money until they report it,” he says. “We should know who put all the money in before they go to the ballot. We don’t have any idea who gave what to whom.”

Robinson likens the situation to the wily ways of Wall Street. “Contributors are investors, and they’re looking for a return on their investment,” he says. “We’d better have limits to what they can give, or there’ll never be limitations as to what they expect.”

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-303-8004 or [email protected]

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