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Lansing — A House panel approved Wednesday legislation that would reduce the time period in which lawmakers could be criminally charged for campaign finance fraud, despite questions by Democrats about the timing and intent of the bill.

The House Elections and Ethics Committee approved the bill along party lines. It would prohibit the attorney general’s office from pursuing an indictment for a violation older than five years.

Democratic Rep. Vanessa Guerra of Saginaw questioned why the proposed standard was more lenient than the 10-year statute of limitations applied to actions brought against local governments.

“People have the right to know what we’re doing and be able to bring an action against us long after five years,” Guerra said.

The bill would align with the current five-year record retention period required for campaign finance documents and was tied to another bill that would reduce the civil statue of limitations to five years.

Other GOP power play bills that would have shifted campaign finance oversight from incoming Democratic Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson to a bipartisan political commission were not considered by the House committee Wednesday because of lack of support, said Chairman Aaron Miller.

“I think that the current process works well, and I think there were issues with the bills,” the Sturgis Republican said of his personal thoughts on the package by Sen. Dave Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, who did not testify in committee and declined to talk to the press Wednesday after an unrelated hearing.

Robertson has struggled with timely campaign finance filings and this week paid off the full $1,681.33 he owed in late fees and fines, according to the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office. His former campaign treasurer is a suspect in an ongoing criminal embezzlement probe

Another former Robertson campaign consultant who also worked for Senate Republicans through 2013 raised questions about the statute of limitations legislation late Tuesday on Twitter.

“Ask them why 1 year of protection from prosecution for past crimes in 2013 is so important on statute of limitations and think about when I left the senate,” wrote Matt Marsden, who did not immediately return a call from The Detroit News seeking additional comment or clarification.

“This is very #Strange this last minute sleight of hand? making sure your dirty laundry isn't aired?”

State Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, referenced Marsden’s social media posts as he questioned the legislation.

“I don’t know much about what potentially happened in 2013, but this is pretty troubling, quite frankly,” Zemke said in the committee hearing. “This idea around any allegation that is potentially associated with this legislation and shielding people from being able to be prosecuted by the attorney general, particularly at a time when we’re changing attorney generals, I think is very concerning.”

Craig Mauger, a watchdog with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, noted that lawmakers are trying to limit the criminal statute of limitations for a section of law that directly impacts themselves and other public office holders.

“But no one is really providing a specific reason as to why,” he said. “They’re just saying we need to do this because of record keeping, but why not move the record keeping statute a year? You could make the argument both ways on that one.”

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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