Michigan will allow candidates to raise money for super PACs

Michigan will allow candidates to raise money for super PACs
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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has signed new legislation that will allow candidates running for state office to raise unlimited money for outside political groups, an expansion of campaign finance law likely to be seen in other states in the future.

The measure, which cleared the Republican-dominated legislature on Tuesday, goes further than federal election rules. Under those federal rules, a candidate can raise contributions of up to $5,000 for super PACs. 

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The Michigan law allows candidates to raise unlimited contributions, both from individuals and from corporations, on behalf of “independent expenditure committees,” the state equivalent of super PACs. Those committees could then spend freely on advertisements directly targeting any race.

Snyder, in a statement, said the new law clarifies the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the case of Citizens United v. FEC, a decision that paved the way for the creation of super PACs. The bill he signed codifies that ruling on a state level, his office said.

“The Department of State finally has clear statutory authority to regulate independent expenditure committees, to mandate registration and reporting of contributions and expenditures, and to investigate and punish entities violating those regulations,” Snyder said.

Campaign finance watchdogs have been harshly critical of the measure, which they say will lead to a dramatic infusion of money into state politics, far beyond current contribution limits on individuals who want to invest in candidates.

“The move undermines long-standing campaign contribution limits that were originally intended to prevent corruption,” said Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a political watchdog. “By allowing candidates to work extremely closely with super PACs and to raise money for them, campaign spending could shift from candidates' campaigns, which face contributions limits and are easier for the public to track, to much murkier super PACs.”

Under current law, individuals are allowed to contribute up to $3,400 to a statewide candidate in Michigan. Contributions to state Senate candidates are capped at $1,000, while contributions to state House candidates are limited to just $500.

“Voters across the political spectrum want common sense limits on money in politics,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “Instead of listening to voters, Gov. Snyder and Republicans in the Michigan legislature once again sided with wealthy special interests.”

Those who oppose new restrictions on campaign contributions say the law conforms to federal rules, which allow super PACs to accept unlimited donations.
 
“Whether you like or dislike the federal rules as they are today, this follows the federal model,” said Dan Backer, a campaign finance lawyer who has argued to reduce limits on political contributions before the Federal Election Commission. “Those who oppose this specific difference are exactly the same people who oppose the overall system anyway.”
 
Other watchdog groups have already been critical of Michigan’s ethics and transparency laws. State lawmakers are not required to file personal financial disclosure statements, an unusual omission in the post-Watergate era. A 2015 study by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity ranked Michigan behind every other state in terms of its transparency regime.