Ethics, lobbying and campaign finance reform

It was welcome news when Governor Snyder announced during his 2012 State of the State address that he believes Michigan needs campaign finance, lobbying and ethics reforms. It has been a long time since a Michigan governor has expressed serious interest in this important area of government accountability.

The Governor only articulated one particular idea in his address: That campaign finance reporting should be more frequent. Since Michigan’s constitutional executives and legislators are nearing the end of a 14-month long campaign finance reporting hiatus, this should be self-evident. Every political committee – candidate committee, PAC or party committee – should report at least every quarter, in addition to filing established pre- and post-election reports. More frequent campaign finance reporting is an important and obvious reform with which to begin.

A second important campaign finance reform should be to require regular reporting of receipts and expenditures by all committees that engage in any electioneering communications; that is, any mass media communications directed to voters that contain reference to a candidate for public office during the period immediately preceding an election.

MCFN’s Dashboard of Campaign Finance Accountability shows clearly the extent to which the sources of campaign spending were not disclosed in Michigan’s 2010 state elections. The gubernatorial general election, supreme court and secretary of state campaigns are all examples where more than half of all campaign spending was unreported because the Department of State doesn’t recognize candidate-focused “issue” advertising as a campaign expenditure. This interpretation was the cause of a gaping $23 million hole in the State campaign finance disclosure system, just in 2010. Since 2000, MCFN has compiled records from television broadcasters’ public files of $70 million in campaign spending that was completely unreported.

A third important reform should require more thorough reporting of lobbyists’ spending. The Detroit International Bridge Company ran a $6 million television lobbying campaign in 2011, telling viewers to contact legislators and the Governor to oppose the proposed public/private bridge between Detroit and Windsor. Yet, DIBC is not even registered as a lobbyist with the Department of State. That is disgraceful and it should not be acceptable.

There are a number of worthy ideas to bring transparency and accountability to the thriving money-in-politics sector of Michigan’s economy. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network is grateful that Governor Snyder has the political courage to acknowledge the problem. We look forward to contributing to a serious public dialogue and, we sincerely hope, authentic positive action.

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