Common Cause: Snyder should veto election bills
Striking late at night, when they assumed no one would be watching, politicians in Lansing passed bills to protect the voice of wealthy special interests, granting them a louder voice in our government, while pushing voters aside. The question now is whether Gov. Rick Snyder will stop them.
The early Christmas gift to wealthy donors comes in the form of campaign finance and election law changes that will make it harder for tens of thousands of Michiganders to vote and will allow big money outside groups to directly coordinate their electioneering with candidates, effectively ending any meaningful contribution limits now on the books.
These bills stand to set Michigan back at a time when other states and cities are moving to make voting more accessible and government more accountable, not less. You may remember that Michigan used to be a leader in election modernization; under Secretary of State Richard Austin we passed “Motor Voter” laws that are now in place all over the country. But we’ve fallen behind. Just this year, Oregon and California took these laws further, enabling eligible voters to be automatically registered through the DMV.
Illinois and other states meanwhile, have enacted laws that allow voters to register to vote on Election Day. And at the polls last month, voters in Maine and Seattle approved ballot measures that empower small donors while limiting the power of wealthy special interests in elections. From Montana to Massachusetts, 20 states also have recently passed strong disclosure laws in reaction in the explosion of big and often secret money in politics triggered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
Our state’s step backward also comes as Michigan is failing on transparency and in responding to the needs of voters. In November, the Center for Public Integrity gave Michigan an “F” on the group’s 50-state scorecard for government accountability.
While measures making it easier for special interests but harder for voters are being pushed by Republicans in the legislature, recent polling shows that Republican and Democratic voters alike want real reform and actually agree on the solutions we need. A recent Public Policy Polling survey of 2016 primary voters found:
■ 81 percent of Republicans and 85 percent of Democrats agree that the system for funding elections needs reform
■ 85 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of Democrats agree that politicians should focus more on small donations rather than big money from special interests
■ 91 percent of Republicans and 91 percent of Democrats agree that Super PACs and special interest groups running campaign ads should be required to disclose their donors
Michigan could be a leader again. Instead of allowing more secret money in elections, we need better disclosure rules for big money groups that run attack ads in Michigan. When lobbyists are burning the midnight oil to pass bills that rewrite the rules in favor of wealthy special interests, we need reforms that let voters know who is lobbying on what bills and what gifts those lobbyists are giving our elected officials. Transparency is just the first step, but without it voters are left in the dark and can’t judge which elected officials are doing the bidding of big money, and which are looking out for the common good.
Gov. Snyder has a chance to put the interests of Michigan voters ahead of those of big political donors, He must veto these anti-democratic bills and then work with legislative leaders of both parties to prioritize and move reforms that will actually make Michigan government work for the people, and not special interests.
Melanie McElroy is the executive director of Common Cause Michigan.