OPINION

Lyons: Criticisms of campaign finance law ignore facts

Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons

The passage of Senate Bill 571 (now Public Act 269 of 2015) has generated undeserved sensational headlines that ignore facts. The sensationalism perpetuates misinformation and misunderstanding. It’s time to cut through the hyperbole and downright lies surrounding the legislation.

Senate Bill 571 simply protects Michigan’s taxpayers.

It doesn’t put a “gag order” on local governments and schools or put librarians in jail. It stops the use of tax dollars to influence voters on ballot measures. This was already illegal, but with 26 complaints lodged and 15 found in violation since 2012, it’s obvious the law wasn’t sufficient. Senate Bill 571 prohibits the use of public resources to reference a local ballot initiative 60 days before an election in radio and TV advertisements, mass-mailings or robo calls. It doesn’t infringe on First Amendment rights of elected or appointed officials to share personal positions. It doesn’t prohibit the discussion of ballot questions at public meetings, televised or not. It doesn’t prevent officials from answering questions from residents.

Schools and local officials expressed concern and confusion due in large part to misinformation put out by lobbyists ands others. In response, I recently introduced legislation to clarify that officials can discuss ballot questions at meetings and allows factual information in all their mass communications. I continue to listen to feedback from stakeholders and am committed to seeking a fair solution, but misusing tax dollars for campaign activities and robo calls must remain illegal.

Local officials can and should indeed do their public duty by providing factual information to residents about ballot questions, but they will not be permitted to cross the line from informing citizens into influencing voters at the expense of taxpayers.

People in my community complained about this years ago when I worked for my local Realtors association; I’ve heard it from House colleagues, constituents, and from parents at my kids’ school.

Senate Bill 571 does not increase campaign contribution limits, and multiple journalists have refuted such an assertion.

Complaints the bill was rushed with changes made on the House Floor ignore the fact that it’s not an unprecedented process. That’s just a red herring employed by opponents who prefer the status quo.

Statements from Republican House members that they weren’t made aware of the bill’s changes, or that they weren’t provided information prior to the vote, are false. I understand that members are inundated with information and caucus meetings get long, but that information and those discussions are critical and require members’ undivided attention.

If attacks are the cost of doing what is right, I am willing to pay that price. But when facts take a backseat and rhetoric rules the day, we all pay the price.

State Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons is an Alto Republican.