October 21, 2014 rss
header twitter link facebook link home link
Sign Up For Weekly E-BulletinsView Resource Guide and Job Postings

Columns
Jack Lessenberry

Jack Lessenberry

The Secret Campaign Contribution Shell Game

July 12, 2013

LANSING, Mich. – Those who fought for years to try and limit the effects of money over our elections were dealt what seemed a fatal blow three and a half years ago. That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was an unconstitutional limit on free speech to place any restrictions on corporate or, for that matter, union spending on elections. No matter how much money is spent, no matter how close to the election received, and no matter how outrageous the ads.

That was the famous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which was decided on a 5 to 4 vote. But often overlooked is the fact that the court also indicated that states could, and indeed should, require anyone trying to influence campaigns to disclose how much is being spent, and by whom.

Yet Michigan doesn’t even do that.

That’s something that outrages and motivates Rich Robinson, who for years has run something called the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, (www.mcfn.org) a non-profit, non-partisan research center dedicated to documenting how much money is spent to try and influence elections…and where it comes from. Late last month, Robinson released a massive report called “ Descending Into Dark Money: A Citizen’s Guide to Michigan Campaign Finance 2012,” which attempts to chronicle spending in virtually every federal and state race this past year.

The report, which is filled with tables listing who gave what to whom, shows—as you might expect—a new record in contributions last year. But what is most ominous is that more and more of that spending can’t be accounted for, because it is so-called “issue advertising” done by sometimes shadowy groups. This has become particularly acute in judicial campaigns, especially for the Michigan Supreme Court. There, the parties and candidates spent $5 million dollars, the sources of which can be traced.

But that was vastly overshadowed by $13.85 million in “issue-oriented” TV advertising that can’t be.

“There is no public record of whose contributions paid for the issue advertising,” Robinson said, something he finds outrageous. “Citizens should have the right to know whose money is driving critically important election outcomes, so they can evaluate how campaign spending correlates,” to what politicians actually do, he said. For example, if a politician voted to relax fuel emission standards, shouldn’t people have the right to know whether an auto manufacturer gave money to her or his campaign?

The way it now stands, maybe not.

Legally, anyone could form a committee called “Citizens for Happy Kittens” and take money from the Koch brothers, or, say, the Socialist Workers Party. Then they could run ads smearing the record of some judge running for re-election. As long as such a group doesn’t actively endorse a candidate, they don’t have to disclose where their money comes from. Ironically, that seems to run directly contrary to the intent of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United case. In his latest “Dark Money” report, Robinson quotes approvingly from the majority opinion: “The First Amendment protects political speech, and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions.”

One could argue that, since there often is not enough time for harried voters to find out who sponsored a particular ad, such “informed decisions” are out of reach. But reality, Robinson noted, is what we have to work with. “I don’t believe there will be a time in the foreseeable future when there will be any restraints on spending,” he told me. “For that reason, I think it critical that we achieve authentic, rigorous disclosure of whose money is driving politics.” He knows that some rich contributors don’t want to be disclosed. “They consider disclosure to be intimidation and a threat to freedom of association,” he said.

Indeed, some groups have cited a famous civil rights case, NAACP v. Alabama (1958) in support of not requiring disclosure. In that case, in which a racist government was attempting to drive the civil rights organization out of the state, the high court ruled the state did not have a right to their membership list. “That is a preposterous equivalence,” Robinson snorted. “An angry billionaire who doesn’t want his fingerprints visible on his political spending is nothing like a civil rights worker in the Jim Crow south, and not deserving of the same protection—anonymity—afforded to someone at risk of being lynched.”

Rich Robinson knows that the chance of Michigan’s GOP-dominated legislature passing a law requiring disclosure is dim. But the campaign finance specialist thinks the legal profession should ask for a ruling from Secretary of State Ruth Johnson that the use of anonymous, issue-oriented ads in judicial races is illegal. He doesn’t think you can ever make the case for legal “issue-oriented” ads in a judicial campaign for one simple reason: “It is illegal to lobby judges. Once we achieve transparency in judicial campaigns, it will be much harder to justify in legislative and executive campaigns,” he said.

So that leaves the ball in the lawyers’ hands.

To check out the full report, and to see what money may have influenced any Michigan official, go to www.mcfn.org.

Veteran journalist and national Emmy Award winner Jack Lessenberry teaches at Wayne State University, serves as Michigan Radio’s senior political analyst and writes regularly for several publications. He also serves as The Toledo Blade’s writing coach and ombudsman and is host of the weekly television show Deadline Now on WGTE-TV in Toledo.

July 11, 2013 · Filed under Jack Lessenberry

27 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Anagnorisis // Jul 12, 2013 at 9:06 am

    It’s all Orwellian. Citizens United has not the least thing to do with citizens; it only unites corporations with their favored candidates. Issue advertising is tantamount to the Ministry of Love in 1984. It’s all roundabout workaround tactics: pass a law restraining something; pass another law sustaining it. Like the 1st Amendment superseded by the Treason Act subsequently repealed, the rhetorical continuum continues to waste time and money. Jack gets it right; the boondoggle is unending, lawyers and lobbyists do the moneychangers’ bidding – the only real winners here.

  • 2 Stephen Linder // Jul 12, 2013 at 11:17 am

    I have issued many challenges and requests to Rich Robinson to release the list of his donors. Crickets. This story is filled with so many mis-applications of the law, terminology, compliance, that it boggles the mind. Extremely sloppy journalism. The fact of the matter is, Rich and others ultimately just want to shut us up and have government funded speech: welfare for politicians. The public, and any part of it, has a right to speak out. They don’t have the ink that a Jack Lessenberry has from his corporate subsidized media outlets. We have to use our own money to counteract their speech. Free speech is not limited to those who call themselves “the press.” The don’t get to control what the public hears any more and it makes them very angry.

  • 3 solar panels toronto // Mar 5, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    32079 432272It is rare knowledgeable folks within this subject, nevertheless, you appear like there

  • 4 article source // Mar 7, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    15216 566280Music began playing any time I opened this site, so frustrating! 676629

  • 5 iphone 5s // Mar 8, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    600942 502549Cool post thanks! We believe your articles are fantastic and hope much more soon. We adore anything to do with word games/word play. 604631

  • 6 iphone 5s // Mar 8, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    33283 402357The vacation trades offered are evaluated a variety of in the chosen and merely great value all around the world. Those hostels are normally based towards households which you

  • 7 play online roulette // Mar 10, 2014 at 11:19 am

    35015 139860Hello! I

  • 8 online slots free no download // Mar 10, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    531016 456981Come across back yard garden unusual periods of one

  • 9 local moving and storage companies // Mar 10, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    177184 60233It

  • 10 Chandler Az // Mar 11, 2014 at 1:59 am

    180497 64761This design is steller! You certainly know how to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (nicely, almost

  • 11 Hidemyass Pro // Mar 11, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    Wonderfull great site effexor xr withdrawal/newborn ethically troubling, he/she may refuse to assist the preceptor in medication distribution to patients

  • 12 best online casino // Mar 12, 2014 at 2:13 am

    782147 169715of course like your web-site nevertheless you require to check the spelling on quite a couple of of your posts. Numerous them are rife with spelling issues and I to discover it extremely bothersome to inform the reality nevertheless I

  • 13 Breakthrough Sleep Apnea Treatment That WORKS // Mar 12, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    518819 948283Wohh exactly what I was looking for, regards for putting up. 387713

  • 14 megasesso // Mar 13, 2014 at 4:31 am

    684151 978517Read more on that Post.Useful info. 505634

  • 15 blogging // Mar 13, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    614170 730516Should you happen to excited about eco items, sometimes be tough shock to anyone them recognise that to assist make special baskets just for this quite liquids carry basic steps liters associated ceiling fan oil producing. dc free of charge mommy weblog giveaways family trip home gardening home power wash baby laundry detergent 69694

  • 16 how to create my own website // Mar 14, 2014 at 12:05 am

    770726 31768Hmm is anyone else experiencing issues with the images on this blog loading? I

  • 17 Get More Information // Mar 14, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Valuable information. Lucky me I found your web site by accident, and I am shocked why this accident didn’t happened earlier! I bookmarked it.

  • 18 my universal studios vacation // Mar 14, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    149308 476663Lovely sharp post. Never considered that it was that effortless. Praises to you! 637975

  • 19 universal studios en orlando // Mar 14, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    358046 887794You must participate in a contest for among the top blogs on the internet. I will suggest this internet site! 587057

  • 20 Zandra Schleider // Mar 15, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Attractive section of content. I just stumbled upon your weblog and in accession capital to say that I acquire actually loved account your blog posts. Anyway I¡¯ll be subscribing in your feeds and even I achievement you access consistently rapidly.

  • 21 Child Custody Attorney in Williamsburg Virginia // Mar 15, 2014 at 10:36 am

    122202 853716Directories such given that the Yellow Websites need not list them, so unlisted numbers strength sometimes be alive more harm than financial assistance. 19161

  • 22 Best Child Custody Lawyer in Williamsburg Virginia // Mar 15, 2014 at 11:31 am

    707367 107695This sort of wanting to come to a difference in her or his lifestyle, initial typically Los angeles Excess weight weightloss scheme can be a large running in as it reached that strive. weight loss 707966

  • 23 seo company in singapore // Mar 16, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    514743 964033Genuinely good style and style and exceptional content material , absolutely nothing at all else we need to have : D. 715600

  • 24 Linnie Seemann // Mar 17, 2014 at 5:21 am

    My spouse and I stumbled over here by a different website and thought I might check things out. I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to looking into your web page yet again.

  • 25 Meda Shurak // Mar 17, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Wow, awesome blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is excellent, let alone the content!

  • 26 build a website // Mar 17, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    982740 723216Very good publish, thanks a lot for sharing. Do you happen to have an RSS feed I can subscribe to? 801786

  • 27 create a website // Mar 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    210154 142314Pretty section of content material. I just stumbled upon your weblog and in accession capital to assert that I get truly enjoyed account your weblog posts. Any way I will likely be subscribing to your augment and even I achievement you access consistently swiftly. 41417


Advertisment

Advertisment


Advertisment

Advertisment


© 2007-2011 DomeMagazine.com. All rights reserved. Site design by Kimberly Hopkins, khopdesign, llc.