By CRAIG MAUGER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING — As political action committees (PACs) continue to break fundraising records in Michigan, a bipartisan group of House members is hoping to decrease their influence.
A bill, introduced earlier this month, would cut in half the maximum amount PACs can give state candidates. Currently, Michigan law allows PACs to give 10 times the maximum amount individuals can give. House Bill 5632, sponsored by Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy), would reduce that multiplier to five.
Howrylak said recently that he believes PACs have too much sway and that it’s easy to come to that conclusion by “watching legislators make decisions.”
“By reducing the campaign finance gap between PACs and individual donors, the focus will be more to the individuals who actually live in the elected official’s district and less emphasis will be placed on what the special interest groups want and are lobbying for,” Howrylak said.
Under the state’s current contribution limits, which were doubled in 2013, individuals can give State House candidate committees up to $1,000, State Senate candidate committees up to $2,000 and the committees of statewide candidates, such as gubernatorial and attorney general candidates, up to $6,800.
PACs, on the other hand, can give State House candidate committees up to $10,000, State Senate candidate committees up to $20,000 and statewide candidate committees up to $68,000.
Howrylak’s bill would reduce the limits for PACs to $5,000, $10,000 and $34,000 respectively, where they were before the Legislature doubled all of the limits in 2013.
Had the bill been in place for 2014, about $107,875 in PAC contributions would have been prevented over just the five most expensive State House races. The 2014 election also saw the most PAC fundraising in the state’s history. The 150 largest PACs raised more than $68 million for the 2014 cycle. The previous record was $51.9 million from the 2006 cycle.
Beyond the contribution totals, supporters of Howrylak’s bill see a structural problem in allowing PACs to give 10 times what individuals can give. Howrylak said the setup magnifies the impact of PAC contributions.
Two Republicans — Reps. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) and Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) — co-sponsored the bill along with six Democrats. The Democrats were Reps. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo), Marilyn Lane (D-Fraser), Bill LaVoy (D-Monroe), Kristy Pagan (D-Canton), Julie Plawecki (D-Dearborn) and Rose Mary Robinson (D-Detroit).
Plawecki said the bill makes positive strides toward taking on the influence of money in our state’s elections.
“Special interests have swayed elections for far too long, and their power continues to increase,” she said. “I believe our elections, as well as political process, should place a greater emphasis on the citizens, who themselves are the voters.”
House leadership referred the bill to the Elections Committee, where the bill faces a a major up-hill battle. Many members of the current Legislature were also there in 2013 and cast votes for doubling contribution limits.
In a 2013 press release about signing that bill, Gov. Rick Snyder said the state's current limits strike a balance “between a voter’s right to contribute to the political process while preserving necessary limits to ensure the integrity of the electoral system.” There's also a good chance that limiting PAC contributions to candidates could drive spending to other places where it's harder to track.
Howrylak said he’s taking a long-range approach with his new proposal.
“There is definitely support for this concept, but it has a long journey if it is to make it through to the Governor’s desk this term,” he said.