Stealth campaigning sullies Supreme Court campaign

LANSING – For the third consecutive election season, television ads that are not disclosed on any campaign finance report are a prominent feature of the Michigan Supreme Court campaign. Two independent groups – one supporting incumbent Justice Stephen J. Markman, and one opposing him – are running television advertisements that are the most visible part of the campaign, but the money behind them is not reported to state election officials.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has a statewide ad campaign that extols the virtues of Markman as a jurist without explicitly exhorting a vote for him. The Chamber's campaign will spend roughly $900,000 between October 18th and November 1st. Under state law, such an "issue ad" does not have to be reported and contributors to the committee that pays for the advertisement do not have to be disclosed.

The Chamber ran more than $3 million worth of such ads in 2000 and more than $800,000 worth in 2002.

The committee opposed to Markman calls itself Citizens for Judicial Reform, and it is not registered with the Michigan Secretary of State or the Internal Revenue Service. Its ads, which are running across the state also, explicitly say, "Vote no on Markman."

The committee is spending about $200,000 during the week of October 26th through November 1st.

"In the case of the Chamber's ads, they have a legal right to withhold the identity of their contributors," said Rich Robinson of the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network, "That is a perfect example of why state campaign finance law needs to be updated to match federal law. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that ads like these are electioneering communications when they are run in conjunction with a federal campaign. That means the spending and the donors behind it have to be identified. We need to join the 21st Century and make this activity transparent in state campaigns, as well."

"In the case of the so-called Citizens for Judicial Reform, their ads do explicitly exhort a vote," Robinson said. "They are required by law to register their committee, disclose their spending and disclose their donors. It appears that they have made a calculated decision to flout the law because penalties and enforcement for campaign finance violations are abysmally weak in this state."

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network collected the television advertising data from the broadcasters' political public files.

Press Release 2004 News