Michigan political candidates could solicit unlimited contributions for independent committees, or super PACs, supporting their candidacies under legislation approved along party lines Tuesday by the Republican-led Legislature.
The GOP said the bills would lock federal court rulings into state law and provide clarity seven years after a major U.S. Supreme Court decision, but Democrats countered the measure would go further and swell the flow of "dark money" into politics.
Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, did not indicate if he would sign the legislation.
The bills would codify and expand upon the 2010 Citizens United ruling. It led to a proliferation of independent political action committees — super PACs — and nonprofits that can take unlimited contributions from corporations, labor unions and others to spend independently to sway voters. The ruling, the biggest in a series of decisions declaring that limits on big-money contributions violate the givers' free-speech rights, remains a partisan flashpoint.
The legislation cleared the House 62-45, with one Republican joining Democrats in opposition. The Senate, which passed the bills last week, then gave them final approval.
State law now prohibits corporations and unions from directly making a contribution or expenditure, unless it comes from a segregated account funded with donations from individual employees. The legislation would clarify that corporations and unions are allowed to spend independently, which in practice has been occurring due to the judicial opinions.
The legislation would also let independent expenditure committees running ads or other communications use the same attorney, vendor or other agent that a candidate committee employs as long as that person does not convey information about the campaign's "plans, projects, activities or needs."
Democratic Rep. Jeremy Moss of Southfield criticized the bills, saying they would "utterly destroy" post-Watergate and good government campaign-contribution limits.
"They make the current accountability and transparency in campaign candidate committees absolutely pointless when you can hide untraceable donations in a super PAC," he said. Others noted that super PACs can use nonprofit social welfare organizations to raise unlimited amounts from donors who remain anonymous.
But Republican Rep. Aaron Miller of Sturgis said the Supreme Court in Citizens United "clarified the First Amendment," and he denied claims that the legislation would further swell "dark money" into the process. He said the Michigan secretary of state's office asked legislators for clarity post-Citizens United.
"This bill is a light money concept. This bill has plenty of reporting. It has stiff penalties for coordination. This bill includes reporting for even other disbursements that are not political in nature," Miller said.