MCFN supports SBM request for declaratory ruling

LANSING - The Michigan Campaign Finance Network submitted a comment to Secretary of State Ruth Johnson on Friday, September 27, 2013 supporting the request of the State Bar of Michigan for a declaratory ruling to require payments for all communications about Michigan judicial candidates to be reportable campaign expenditures.

The declaratory ruling the State Bar of Michigan has requested would increase disclosure that has been unnecessarily constricted by an interpretive statement published by the Department of State on April 20, 2004. The rationale for that interpretive statement has been superseded by several key campaign finance rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States over the past six years.

MCFN's comment introduced data that have been collected from state broadcasters and cable systems that show tens of millions of dollars have been spent but not reported for television advertisements by the state's political parties and nonprofit advocacy corporations since the 2004 ruling. Without exception, the advertisements sought to define candidates' suitability, or unsuitability, to hold judicial office.

In 2012, disclosed spending accounted for barely one-fourth of all that was spent in the Michigan Supreme Court campaign, and an Oakland County Circuit Court campaign. MCFN's comment included storyboards of unreported television ads from the 2012 Supreme Court campaign.

A comment from the Brennan Center for Justice and the nonpartisan organization, Justice at Stake, introduced findings from their joint national study that Michigan had the most expensive and least disclosed Supreme Court election campaigns in the nation in 2010 and 2012.

The Campaign Legal Center, a Washington, DC nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that represents the public interest in campaign finance matters, submitted a comment that detailed the solid constitutional foundation for honoring the request of the State Bar of Michigan.

"The State Bar of Michigan should be commended for taking the action it has to bring integrity and accountability to Michigan's judicial election campaigns," said Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. "They have given the Department of State the opportunity to restore the original meaning of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act and, thereby, give the electors of this state access to important information they should have when choosing judges."

"As the Supreme Court of the United States said in Citizens United, 'The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.'"

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