Campaign finance records were set in 2008

Limits, accountability not part of state campaign finance culture

LANSING -- Despite Michigan’s downward economic spiral, several campaign finance records were set in the state’s 2008 election cycle. Details are contained in the 2008 Citizen’s Guide to Michigan Campaign Finance, released today by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

On the federal side, the campaigns in the 7th and 9th Congressional Districts each topped the $9 million mark, a level previously unseen in Michigan’s U.S. House races. Mark Schauer defeated incumbent Tim Walberg in the 7th, and Gary Peters defeated incumbent Joe Knollenberg in the 9th.

On the state side, campaign finance records were set in the $7.5 million Michigan Supreme Court campaign, where Diane Hathaway defeated incumbent Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, and in the Michigan House of Representatives.

In aggregate, Michigan House campaigns cost $19.3 million, up by 12.6 percent compared to the previous record total of $17.1 million in 2006. A record also was set for spending behind an individual Michigan House candidate in the 39th District, where Lisa Brown raised $522,000 and benefited from $413,000 in independent expenditures for a total of $935,000 for her successful campaign.

The 2008 Citizen’s Guide includes campaign finance summaries of all state campaigns, lists of top contributors to state officeholders during the 2007-2008 cycle, and lists of top contributors to the state party committees, the legislative caucuses’ campaign committees and the top officeholders’ leadership political action committees (PACs).

“Campaign finance data are interesting for two reasons,” said Rich Robinson, executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network. “First, because there is a close correlation between financial advantage and electoral success: 104 of the 110 state representatives had greater financial backing than their opponents.”

“And perhaps the more significant reason to be concerned with campaign finance data is the fact that the interest groups that provide the most campaign cash tend to dominate the legislative calendar,” Robinson said. “Money really does correlate to access to the legislative process.”

The Citizen’s Guide highlights several ways in which accountability and limits are lacking in Michigan’s state campaign finance regulations. Of the $7.5 million spent for the Supreme Court campaign, over half the money is not disclosed in campaign finance reports. The money spent by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Democratic and Republican Parties for candidate-focused “issue” advertising is entirely off the books.

“That is particularly insidious for Supreme Court campaigns,” said Robinson, “because the prospective justices’ biggest financial backers may come before the Court as litigants and we wouldn’t even know it. This is no place for a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.”

The Citizen’s Guide also points out that current officeholders won’t file another campaign finance report this year, even though elected officials hold hundreds of fundraising events and raise millions of dollars every year.

“Officeholders should be filing campaign finance reports at least quarterly, every year,” Robinson said. “Citizen’s should be able to know who is giving what to whom as policy debates unfold, not a year after the fact.”

The absence of limits on contributions to state political action committees was particularly important in this year’s Michigan House campaigns. Independent expenditures by state PACs were up by more than 500 percent at $2.5 million, and they were a major financial factor in the most competitive races. The vast majority of that spending traced back to PACs that received most of their funds from Kalamazoo philanthropist Jon Stryker.

“Mr. Stryker is playing according to the rules we have,” Robinson said, “and Michigan’s political culture doesn’t include limits on spending. That’s a world different from federal law, but there doesn’t seem to be much inclination for change in either party.”

The 2008 Citizen’s Guide to Michigan Campaign Finance is available in pdf format at, or it is available in printed format from MCFN at no charge.

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