After Ad Missteps, Dark Money Group Agrees To Pay $17,696 Fine

Agreement Comes After Coverage From Michigan Campaign Finance Network

By CRAIG MAUGER
Executive Director
Michigan Campaign Finance Network

Some 500 days after complaints were first filed, the Secretary of State’s Office has finally reached an agreement on the penalty for a dark money group that says it mistakenly ran ads touting two candidates "for Senate" in the fall of 2014.

According to paperwork dated Wednesday, March 2, the Michigan Jobs and Labor Foundation has agreed to a civil fine of $17,696.

The agreement came Wednesday after the Michigan Campaign Finance Network and Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson highlighted the then yet-to-be-resolved complaints earlier in the week. Those stories can be read here and here.

In the fall of 2014, the Michigan Jobs and Labor Foundation, a nonprofit that doesn’t have to disclose its donors but often works to the benefit of GOP candidates, ran ads featuring Republicans Ken Horn and Dale Zorn. The problem was the ads specifically touted the two candidates “for Senate.”

That crossed the line between issue advocacy, the act of educating the public about issues, which doesn’t require donor disclosure, and express advocacy, the act of telling the public to vote for someone, which does require disclosure. The missteps inspired complaints from Democrats. Those complaints went unresolved for more than 500 days.

In fact, an update on the case wasn’t provided until Feb. 23, after a Freedom of Information Act request from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

In addition to the new civil fine, the Secretary of State’s Office asked the Jobs and Labor Foundation to form a Super PAC in 2015. That Super PAC, formed after the ads aired, was then credited with running the 2014 ads.

The Super PAC was fined $2,300 for late disclosure filings. Those filings reported that the money for the ads, $17,696, came from the nonprofit.

Stephen Linder, president of the Michigan Jobs and Labor Foundation, continues to contend that the language featured in the ads was there by mistake. And in a letter, Linder said the foundation was agreeing to the penalty to avoid the high cost of litigation.

Linder also noted in the letter that the foundation “strenuously” disagrees with the state’s legal interpretation.  

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