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'Citizens United' Bills: From Senate To Governor’s Desk In Less Than A Week

Michigan State Senate
Wikipedia Media Commons

Republicans in Lansing worked at a breakneck speed Tuesday to pass legislation that would allow politicians in Michigan to solicit campaign contributions on behalf of political action committees. 

The bills had their first House committee hearing Tuesday morning and were headed to the governor’s desk by the end of the day.  They’d passed in the Senate late last week.

Lawmakers backing the legislation say they have to move quickly because the Secretary of State wants clarification on how much money can be given to certain types of Super PACs.   

Fred Woodhams is with the Secretary of State.  He said since Citizens United, the department has been unsure which political action committees are required to report their fundraising and spending to the state.  

“It caused a lot of ambiguity both for us on how to enforce the law and then for committees who are super PACs,” he said.  “So this law would provide some clarity for us going forward.”

Supporters say the legislation codifies the US Supreme Court Citizens United decision. It said corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.  Super PACs can’t give money to candidates or political parties.  But they can spend all they want independent of the campaigns. 

Critics say the bills would mean more untraceable money in campaign spending. 

Representative Aaron Miller (R-Sturgis) joined almost all his fellow Republicans in the House to vote yes.  He said there are plenty of reporting requirements in the bills.  

“This bill is quite the opposite of a dark money concept.  This bill is a light money concept,” he said.

Other Republicans, like bill sponsor Senator David Robertson (R-Grand Blanc), argue that political contributions are a form of free speech.

“Passage of Senate Bill 335 and 336 is about the preservation of fundamental first amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press,” said Robertson.

Democrats in the house were united in their opposition to the bills.  They said giving deep pockets a way to get unlimited amounts of money to candidates isn’t fair.  While this has been going on for years after the US Supreme Court outlawed those limits in 2010, what is new is that politicians would be able to solicit money for those committees.

Representative Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said that’s bad policy. 

“I don’t see a policy argument for this because we are basically blowing up any limit that a candidate can solicit donations,” he said.  “And that is the heart of my concern of this.”

You can read the bills in full at SB 335 and SB 336

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—Cheyna Roth is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio network.  Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

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