May 21, 2010

Democrats attempting to restore transparency to secret corporate campaign cash

LANSING – The House Ethics and Elections Committee took testimony on a package of bills aimed at restoring accountability to the flood of secret corporate money that will pour into elections following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last January in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case.

The Committee took testimony on Wednesday on House Bills 6182-6188 that would bring some accountability and transparency to the process. Among the things the bills would do include required disclosure of what they spent, corporations would have to have approval of investors to spend money on political campaigns and those investors could be liable for fines if there are any campaign finance violations, companies with foreign investors would not be able to make campaign contributions and ads sponsored by a company or union would have to clearly state the source of the ad, including a disclaimer by the chief executive.

“It (the SCOTUS decision) overturned nearly a century of precedence, and it opened the floodgates to corporate money,” said Rep. Daniel Scripps, D-Northport, primary sponsor of the package. “Because this type pf campaign contribution was illegal before the Supreme Court decision, there is no framework to address this.”

The SCOTUS decision lifted the prohibition of all independent expenditures by corporations and unions, and it wiped out all disclosure and transparency. In the past, corporations, unions and special interest groups could form Political Actions Committees (PAC) to solicit money and hand out political contributions, but they were required to file quarterly campaigns finance reports that list who is giving money and there the money is going,. That’s not the case after the decision, but the package of bills will make that happen again.

“There is no Secretary of State web site to check what the corporations are spending and on what,” said Rep. Kathy Angerer, D-Dundee, the chair of the Elections Committee.

Republicans on the committee questioned why the focus was on corporations and not labor unions. Angerer said the rules apply to unions, too, but she would be open to any clarifications to address any concerns. However, the simple fact is money from labor does not hold a candle to the cash of corporations like insurance companies or oil companies.

Michigan has a history of rich timber and mining barons spending huge sums of money to elect people friendly to them to the Legislature that led to widespread corruption. It was that rampant corruption that led to the laws the Supreme Court struck down in their decision.

“It has been so long ago that it has been forgotten, but the history books are filled with examples of this corruption,” said Mark Brewer, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party.

Rep. Kimberly Meltzer, R-Macomb Twp?, playing to her base for her primary Senate race, said the Democratic Party should be held to the same disclosure requirements for its bingo games, claiming she knows of a bingo hall run by Democrats that funnels money to candidates. However, those facilities are required under federal law to disclose how much they collect from whom and where that money goes.

Brewer said the bingo halls are a model of fundraising; raising small amounts of money from many people as opposed to millions of unregulated dollars being raised by corporations, and he invited Meltzer to visit the bingo hall.

“The voters have spoken on this issue, and there was a referendum in 1996 to allow political parties to raise money with bingo,” Brewer said.

No vote was taken on the package of bills, and Angerer said further hearings will be held on the bills.

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