Gov. Rick Snyder signed a campaign finance bill Wednesday, extending the ruling of Citizens United v. FEC to the state of Michigan. This allows state representatives and candidates to collect campaign money through super PACs, which then permit them to collect unlimited amounts of money.
The bill received little opposition from Republicans, passing through the state House on the back of the Republican majority — only one Republican, state Rep. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy, voted against it. State Sen. David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, introduced the bill in the state Senate last April.
"This legislation codifies the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United which affirms corporate and unions’ ability to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech,” Robertson told the Detroit Free Press.
The Citizens United ruling allowed for unlimited donations from corporations and unions to political candidates. Though the ruling did not change the rules in state races, many states have since amended their campaign finance laws.
In 2010, following the Citizens United ruling, 24 states were forced to amend their campaign finance laws barring corporate and union donations. Now that Snyder signed the bill, there are six states that allow such contributions.
State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, opposes the law, seeing it as a way for corporations to exert unprecedented influence over Michigan races.
“It empowers corporation and special interest groups to have unlimited power over the political process and that’s not what our democracy was ever supposed to be,” Rabhi said. “It was supposed to be a democracy of, by and for the people and this has created a situation where, to even a greater extent than we already have, it’s going to be a corporate oligarchy. It’s going to be the rich who are going to call the shots in Lansing even more than it is today.”
Democrats attempted to amend the bill to increase transparency in campaign finance contributions and prohibit corporations for receiving tax breaks on contributions, but failed.
“This is, in my opinion, a direct attack on the very foundation of our democracy,” Rabhi said. “It is in my opinion, one of the worst pieces of legislation that Lansing has passed this year.”
Regarding future elections, Rabhi believes the law will be very impactful on the amount of untraced money going to candidates and how constituents will vote once they realize the impact of the law.
“I think it will have a huge impact," Rabhi said. "You’ll see massive amounts of untraced dollars flowing through the political process. You’ll see this coordination that is unheard of and goes beyond what Citizens United ever even intended between candidates and the super PACs. This law allows for super PACs and candidates to share staff and certain resources. That’s crazy to me that we’re allowing these super PACs that can get unlimited contributions to coordinate with candidate committees.”
Rabhi added he hopes voters will be influenced to vote against the legislators who backed this piece of legislation.
“It’s unacceptable and I think it will impact the election, but I hope it will also impact the elections — I hope the people of Michigan will see how blatantly in the pockets of the corporate interests some of these representatives are, and vote them out of office,” Rabhi said.
State Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, told the Detroit Free Press that the law is necessary in campaign finance at the state level.
"This bill is quite the opposite of a dark money concept," Miller said. "This bill is a light bill concept and it has stiff penalties for violations."
Public Policy senior Rowan Conybeare, chair of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats, wrote in an email the law makes it harder for citizens to know what interests are donating to state races.
“It is very upsetting that the state of Michigan passed legislation similar to the federal decision in Citizens United,” Conybeare wrote. “Citizens have a right to know where corporations are spending their political money, and from where candidates for office are receiving money. This law is the newest way that Republican lawmakers are removing electoral power from citizens.”
The College Republicans and the Young Americans for Freedom could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.