Record spending, diminishing accountability in 2012 Michigan state campaigns

LANSING - Record spending and a continuing trend of diminishing accountability for that spending were the major features of Michigan's 2012 state election campaigns. Details are contained in the 2012 Citizen's Guide to Michigan Campaign Finance, released today by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN).

Overall spending easily topped $200 million for state campaigns. Ballot committees raised over $154 million, while candidate committees for the Michigan House, education boards and the judiciary totaled $32.7 million. Reported independent expenditures by political action committees (PACs) and the state political parties added another $4 million.

Unreported candidate-focused television issue advertising in judicial campaigns and House campaigns added another $18.3 million to the total. Records of that spending were collected by MCFN from the public files of state television broadcasters and cable systems.

The diminishing accountability for campaign spending is best illustrated in two key judicial campaigns. In the Michigan Supreme Court campaign, the candidate committees reported raising $3.4 million, and reported independent expenditures were $1.6 million. That $5 million of reported activity was vastly overshadowed by $13.85 million of TV advertising about the candidates sponsored by the Michigan Republican Party, the Michigan Democratic Party and a DC-based nonprofit corporation called Judicial Crisis Network. There is no public record of whose contributions paid for the issue advertising.

The Oakland County Sixth Circuit Court campaign followed the same pattern. In that race, the candidate committees and reported independent expenditures totaled $733,000. Unreported candidate-focused TV issue adds by two DC-based nonprofits, Judicial Crisis Network and Americans for Job Security, overwhelmed the reported activity with $2 million in spending.

The state political parties' activities also serve to define the enormous role that unreported dark money plays in state campaigns. The Michigan Republican Party reported spending $1.7 million for all its direct contributions, in-kind contributions and independent expenditures. Its unreported TV advertising in the Supreme Court and Michigan House campaigns totaled $7.1 million.

The Michigan Democratic Party reported spending $3.7 million for direct contributions, in-kind contributions and independent expenditures, while its unreported TV issue advertising for the Supreme Court and Michigan House totaled $8.1 million.

"We are victims of an anachronistic interpretation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act that allows unaccountable dark money to dominate our politics," said Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. "Citizens should have the right to know whose money is driving critically important election outcomes, so they can evaluate how campaign spending correlates to policy outcomes."

The Citizen's Guide also contains campaign finance summaries of Michigan's 2012 U.S. House and Senate campaigns, and a synopsis of television advertising in Michigan for the 2012 presidential campaign.

The 2012 Citizen's Guide to Michigan Campaign Finance includes campaign finance summaries of all state campaigns and lists of top contributors to election winners, party committees, legislative caucus PACs, and major officeholders' leadership PACs.

The Citizen's Guide is available online in portable document format (pdf) at . Complimentary hard copy is also available on request.

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