That grunting and straining you hear is the sound of Gov. Rick Snyder’s struggle to reconcile campaign finance legislation recently adopted by state lawmakers with a pledge he made as a candidate to help voters learn who’s spending how much to influence Michigan’s political process. But it simply can’t be done — and we urge the governor to stop trying before he hurts himself and the state government he has repeatedly promised to make more transparent and accountable. Senate Bill 661 started out as an unnecessary initiative to double the maximum amount that Michigan’s wealthiest political donors and political action committees could legally contribute to election campaigns.
Rammed through committee on a party-line vote over the strenuous objections of campaign finance experts in both parties, the bill became significantly worse when state senators added a last-minute amendment to guarantee the anonymity of donors who launder their contributions through shadowy independent groups that are transparently shilling for a particular candidate or party.
So-called “issue advertising” by such independent groups now accounts for three of every four dollars spent in some statewide election campaigns. But under a controversial administrative ruling issued in 2003 by then-Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, the groups responsible for all that spending have no legal obligation to disclose the names of the donors who bankroll it.