Campaign finance expansion gets on fast track for final passage in House, Senate

 

A bill that’s been called “Citizens United on Steroids” flew through the House of Representatives today, opening up the campaign finance floodgates even more for candidates and super PACs.

Supporters of the bill claim the measure simplify codifies the federal Citizens United decision into state law. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ban on unlimited contributions by corporations and unions into political campaigns, saying it was a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech. As a result, super PACs fueled with millions in donations have blossomed across the country to try to influence elections, and opponents argued that the legislation further blurs the line between candidates and the PACs that support them.

"This legislation codifies the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens’ United which affirms corporate and unions’ ability to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech,” said Sen. David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc.

But opponents said the bill blurs the lines between candidates and the high-dollar super PACs that have changed the face of elections in the country.

“There are limits on my candidate committee, but on the same phone call, I can ask for money for my candidate committee and then ask the person to give me all your money for my super PAC,” said state Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield. “These bills utterly destroy campaign contribution limits. They make the current accountability in candidate campaign committees absolutely pointless."

Under the bill, candidates could solicit unlimited contributions to independent expenditure committees or super PACs, which could then use the money to support the aspirations of the candidate.

Candidates could not coordinate with the super PAC, although a candidate committee and super PAC could use the same vendors, but that’s a distinction that doesn’t pass the smell test, said Democrats and Craig Mauger, director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, which tracks campaign spending.

“What this bill would allow in Michigan isn’t even allowed at the federal level,” Mauger said. “The cost of elections will continue to go up and candidates will be encouraged to fund-raise for their own campaigns and for super PACs.”

The bill was put on a fast track last week when the Senate passed the bill on Thursday on a mostly party line vote with most Republicans supporting the bill and Democrats opposing it. The House Elections and Ethics committee took up the bill Tuesday morning, passing it on a 5-3 party line vote, after only one hour of testimony.

Democrats tried to get amendments passed that would increase transparency of campaign finance spending and a prohibit companies that getting big tax incentives from the state from contributing to super PACs, but all the amendments failed.

"This is a really good way for washing money," said state Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor. "Voters won't have the ability to look through complex campaign finance committee records and they're not going to know where the money is coming from."

But Rep. Jim Lilly, R-Park Township, said the Democrats were treading ground that’s already been covered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“A lot of what I’ve heard today on money in politics is that we’re trying to relitigate Citizens United,” he said.

And Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, said the state needs to incorporate Citizens United into state law.

"This bill is quite the opposite of a dark money concept," he said. "This bill is a light bill concept and it has stiff penalties for violations."

The full House of Representatives voted 62-45 to pass the bill with only Republican support. Rep. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy joined all the Democrats in voting against the bill.

The Senate stayed in session late tonight so they could give the bill immediate effect and send it on to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. Snyder's spokeswoman Ann Heaton said he would review the bill if it gets to his desk.

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