Candidates in Michigan may soon be able to bypass certain campaign finance limits according to bills being considered in the Michigan State Senate.
Senate bills 335 and 336 were approved Thursday by the Senate Elections committee. The bills, introduced by state Sen. Dave Robertson (R–Grand Blanc), would allow candidates to ask for unlimited funding for super Political Action Committees, which would use the money to support the candidate’s platform. However, super PACs cannot give money directly to candidates or parties: they can only fund campaign goals.
The bills now move to the entire Senate for consideration. According to supporters, if passed, the bills will simply mandate what was already decided in the federal Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee decision. The 2010 decision allowed unlimited contributions from corporations and unions, equating donations to free speech protected under the First Amendment. That decision is not yet codified into state law, though super PACs have seen large growth since 2010.
Though campaign finance law has been heavily criticized for allowing wealth to heavily influence elections, Bob LaBrant, general counsel for the Sterling Corporation and a former executive with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press Michigan’s proposed bills shouldn’t be incendiary, and testified in support of the bills.
“Michigan has a long history of codifying court rulings to keep our campaign-finance law current,” LaBrant said.
Robertson agreed, and told the Detroit News limitations are still in place.
“The bright lines exist, and bright lines will be enforced,” Robertson said to Detroit News. “So in that respect, I’m comfortable with it.”
However, some critics of the bill say it gives candidates more financial leeway than they would have if Citizens United was simply being codified. Craig Mauger, director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said to the Detroit Free Press the bill allows candidates to bypass certain caps on donations from individuals.
“We have campaign contribution limits for a reason — to lessen the influence of money in the electoral system,” Mauger said. “And this bill is a way for a candidate to easily circumvent that.”
LSA sophomore Lauren Schandevel, communications director of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats and a columnist at the Daily, said she is less concerned about whether or not the bill is in line with Citizens United –– it should be overturned in the first place.
“Ideally, I would like for Citizens United to be overturned, as its assumption that multimillion-dollar corporations are people whose excessive donations are protected under the First Amendment is a gross manipulation of the law,” Schandevel said. “Citizens United is what opened the floodgates for this kind of legislation in the first place.”
Currently, gubernatorial candidates can raise $6,800 from individuals and super PACs and up to $68,000 from independent PACs. Although these strict limits are in place, Mauger said in an interview with Detroit News they are problematic regardless.
“These committees can specifically accept donations from corporate donors, which are incredibly hard to track,” Mauger said. “So it’s going to be hard to draw connections between the person soliciting the contribution and the person who’s actually the source of the money.”
With the gubernatorial race underway for 2018, Schandevel said the timing of the bill is unfortunate.
“This bill would give big money donors even more influence in Michigan elections,” Schandevel said. “This is especially concerning with the gubernatorial election coming up next year.”
The University’s chapter of College Republicans did not respond to request for comment at the time of publication.