Public workers prohibited from payroll PAC contributions

A bill to prohibit public employees from making payroll contributions to Political Action Committees landed on Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk, and he signed it yesterday.

Last year, the Michigan Supreme Court held in Michigan Education Ass’n v. Secretary of State that administration of payroll deductions for political contributions is prohibited by Section 57 of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

The legislature pounced on it, and passed House Bill 5085 and House Bill 5086, now Public Acts 30 and 31 of 2012.

Gov. Snyder also signed bills that eliminate 36 trial court judgeships, a move that will save an estimated $6 million annually.

$9.2M: Michigan tops nation in supreme court campaign spending

Michigan led the nation in campaign spending for 2009-2010 on state high-court elections, according to a report prepared by the Justice at Stake Campaign and two of its partners, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

“The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2009–10” compiled figures that showed high-court spending in Michigan was nearly $4 million more than in Pennsylvania, the next state on the list:

Michigan: $9,243,914
Pennsylvania: $5,424,210
Ohio: $4,437,302
Alabama: $3,538,805
Illinois: $3,477,649
Texas: $2,951,719

The report had this to say about the election cycle:

In Michigan … interest groups and political parties dominated the airwaves, estimates of campaign spending ranged from $9.1 million to $11.1 million (with $6.8 million to $8.8 million in non-candidate spending). Regardless of the precise figure, Michigan’s judicial election spending was easily the nation’s highest in 2009-10. …

So great was the independent spending in Michigan that the four supreme court candidates [Young, Kelly, Justice Alton Davis and Judge Denise Langford-Morris], who raised a total of $2.3 million, at times seemed like bystanders in their own elections.

The state Republican Party single handedly outspent all four candidates, investing more than $4 million in electoral support. Kicking in more than $1.5 million was the state Democratic Party, while the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA), a Virginia-based group with ties to the National Rifle Association, also made a major TV splash.

Most of the special-interest spending in Michigan was concealed from the public, a fact that accounts for the variation in estimates of total spending. Although ads by both parties and the LEAA were blatant attempts to sway votes, Michigan’s outdated disclosure law treated them as apolitical “issue ads,” and required no campaign finance filings disclosing the amounts spent. Estimates of total spending therefore were largely based on the volume of TV ads each group ran, and estimates of what that airtime cost. It also was impossible to decipher who ultimately bankrolled independent efforts in Michigan.

After being the preeminent player in the previous five supreme court campaigns, the state Chamber of Commerce sponsored no television advertisements in 2010. But it did give $5.4 million to the Republican Governors Association (RGA), a national campaign organization. The RGA ultimately transferred $5.2 million back to Michigan’s Republican Party, which was the leading television sponsor in this year’s high court campaign. Accountability was lost in the face of the RGA’s massive national shell game.

The report also slammed the Michigan Democratic Party’s campaign against Young:

The Democrats anti-Young campaign reached rock-bottom … when they ran an ad that said Young “used the word ‘Slut!’ and ‘The “N” Word!’ in deliberations with other justices” and urged voters to call Young and “tell him we don’t need a racist or a sexist on the Michigan Supreme Court.”

Michigan tops nation for supreme court TV election ad spending

From the Brennan Center for Justice comes the not-surprising news that Michigan topped the nation in campaign cash spent for television ads on behalf of state supreme court candidates.

Michigan saw the highest overall spending on supreme court TV ads, with about $5.1 million spent on airtime, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG; Ohio is second with more than $1.9 million in airtime spending. In both of these states, four candidates competed for two Supreme Court seats. …

The highest level of spending in a single-candidate retention race was in Illinois, where incumbent Justice Thomas Kilbride spent more than $1.6 million on TV airtime through Nov. 1. …

Four of the top five spenders on TV airtime in supreme court elections are non-candidate groups. The Michigan Republican Party ranked first overall in TV spending (just over $2 million).Kilbride ranked second ($1.6 million); the Michigan State Democratic Party ranked third ($1.4 million); the Partnership for Ohio’s Future ranked fourth (about $846,000); and the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, which spent more than $780,000 in support of two Republican candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court, ranked fifth.

The Brennan Center’s report noted that in Michigan

non-candidate groups, led by the state Republican and Democratic parties and the Virginia-based Law Enforcement Alliance of America, accounted for more than 80 percent of all TV spending.

Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the center’s Justice at Stake Campaign, asserted, “Political parties and independent groups hijacked this election, heavily outspending the candidates, and ads on both sides were riddled with questionable claims.

“Michigan remains a ground zero for negative, costly court elections.”

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Young leads in campaign cash in MSC race

Justice Robert P. Young Jr. has raised more money than his three closest contenders combined in the Michigan Supreme Court race.

According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, Young, a Republican, has raised some $514,000, with newly named candidate Justice Alton T. Davis a distant second with $194,000.

Among the most interesting facts in the report is the amount of early support the Republican party has given Young and fellow Republican Mary Beth Kelly – $61,000 and $60,000 respectively – while the Democratic party has contributed less than $7,000 to Denise Langford Morris, and has not yet reported any contribution to Davis.

Young’s largest contributors thus far are health care, insurance and finance PACs, with the Michigan Health & Hospital Association Health PAC, Michigan Bankers Association PAC, Michigan Farm BureauPAC and Auto Club of Michigan PAC contributing $22,500, $15,000, $15,000 and $13,200. Davis’ single largest contributor is the Michigan Education Association PAC, which contributed $17,000.

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We had a hunch this is what a survey would say

Large bipartisan majorities believe that campaign cash does indeed influence the behavior of elected judges, according to a recent national Harris poll commissioned by the Justice at Stake Campaign.

The American mainstream wants courts to be off-limits to special-interest money and partisan politics.The new polling shows that the desire for impartial courts is broad and bipartisan.

says Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan campaign with more than 50 partner groups.

Key results from the survey:

71 percent of Democrats, and 70 percent of Republicans, believe campaign expenditures have a significant impact on courtroom decisions. All told, 71 percent of voters share this assessment; only 23 percent believe campaign expenditures have little or no influence on elected judges.

82 percent of Republicans, and 79 percent of Democrats, say a judge should not hear cases involving a campaign supporter who spent $10,000 toward his or her election. Instead, adults said, a neutral judge should hear such cases. This view was held by 81 percent of all adults; only 8 percent of the American public believes an elected judge should stay on cases involving major campaign backers.

88 percent of Republicans, and 86 percent of Democrats, say that “all campaign expenditures to elect judges” should be publicly disclosed, so that voters can know who is seeking to elect each candidate. Among all adults, 87 percent favor full disclosure of campaign expenditures in court elections, and only 8 percent are opposed.

69 percent of all adults, including 73 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Democrats, said they support a menu of reforms to reduce special interest influence in the courtroom. Potential reforms raised in the survey included public financing of state court elections and systems in which judges are appointed to the bench, but require periodic voter consent to stay on the bench.

Comparing 21st Century Michigan Gubernatorial Primaries

The 2010 gubernatorial primary candidates reported raising $18.9 million, through the post primary reports filed on September 2nd. Republican nominee Rick Snyder raised the most with $8,092,507. As of the August 23rd close of books, Democratic nominee Virg Bernero raised 6th most among the field of seven candidates with $1,152,783.

Following are several comparisons of the 2010 Michigan gubernatorial primary with those of 2002 and 2006.

Overall Fund-raising
The 2010 candidates’ aggregate total of $18,930,751 was 28.3 percent more than the $14,755,496 raised by the field of five candidates in 2002. The 2002 campaign was the only one of the last four gubernatorial campaigns that did not feature a candidate who self-funded at least $5 million.

This year’s total is only 57 percent of the $33.3 million amassed by Dick DeVos and Jennifer Granholm through the post-primary period in 2006.

Self-funding: Snyder vs. DeVos
Rick Snyder has contributed $5,941,027 to his campaign through August 23rd, 73.4 percent of its total. Through the 2006 post-primary report, Dick and Betsy DeVos had contributed $16,227,269 to Mr. DeVos’s campaign, 75.7 percent of its total.

Rick Snyder spent $2.4 million for television advertising in the pre-primary period. His TV campaign launched on the Super Bowl and ran through March 21st. After six weeks of down time, Snyder ran three weeks more of television advertisements prior to Memorial Day. The ad blitz resumed at the end of June for the final five-week push.

Dick DeVos’s television campaign began in mid-February 2006 and ran unabated through Election Day. Through the 2006 primary, DeVos spent $10.6 million on television.

Public Funding
Due to the Legislature’s $7.2 million raid on the state campaign fund to balance the FY 2008 budget, the fund paid this year’s candidates only 42 percent of the amount for which they were eligible, a total of $653.990 so far. While this was costly to all the candidates who tapped the fund, it was particularly damaging to Pete Hoekstra, who would have been eligible for an additional $400,000, already. Mr. Hoekstra has applied for an additional $41,675 from the fund that hasn’t yet been authorized by the Department of State.

Mr. Snyder’s self-funding meant that his Republican opponents were eligible to tap the fund without observing the normal $2 million spending limit. This affected Mike Cox and Mike Bouchard, although Cox’s benefit was marginal due to his relatively narrow base of individual donors. In the primary period, the fund pays a two-to-one match for up to $100 from individual contributors.

Ironically, if the Department of State would have known that Mr. Snyder was going to win the Republican nomination, it could have paid the participating candidates the full amount for which they were eligible. The fund reserved $1,125,000 for each of the major party nominees for the general election, but Snyder is ineligible for the Republican allocation because of his self-funding.

As the Democratic nominee, Virg Bernero is eligible, and has applied for, the $1,125,000 general election allocation from the fund.

Although Andy Dillon would have been eligible for public funds, his campaign did not apply for them. Perhaps this was penance on Mr. Dillon’s part, for leading the Legislature’s crippling raid on the fund.

The state campaign fund was tapped for $2,725,391 for the 2002 primary. Dave Bonior received the maximum allocation of $990,000, while Dick Postumus received $972,927. Among the candidates that year, only Jennifer Granholm declined public funds for the primary.

Neither Dick DeVos nor Jennifer Granholm was eligible for public funds in the 2006 primary: DeVos, because of self-funding; Granholm, because she exceeded the $2 million spending cap for her uncontested primary.

“Issue” Advertising
Issue advertising, for which there is no campaign finance reporting, was a much bigger factor in the 2010 primary than previous years. Eight groups that aggregated funds from anonymous donors spent $4.6 million for television advertising prior to the primary election. Issue ads accounted for 40 percent of all television expenditures for the primaries, and 60 percent of all television spending in the critical Detroit media market in the last month before Election Day.

The Genesee County Democratic Committee spent more than $2 million touting Virg Bernero and disparaging Andy Dillon. Bernero had no television campaign of his own.

Advance Michigan Now and Northern Michigan Education Fund were the aggregators for Dillon’s anonymous helpers. Between them, they spent $872,000.

On the Republican side, four groups – American’s for Job Security, Michigan Business United, Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Michigan Taxpayers Alert – spent $1,471,000 supporting Mike Cox and attacking his opponents. Among this group, Michigan Business United is a political action committee and should report its financial activity, although it has yet to do so. What has been reported is that Canton Sen. Bruce “The Commander” Patterson moved $100,000 from PVS Chemicals CEO Jim Nicholson through his leadership PAC to Michigan Business United.

Rounding out the sponsors of candidate-focused issue advertising was the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America, which spent $213,000 attacking Cox.

Issue advertising was more limited, but still a factor in 2002 and 2006. In 2002, the St. Clair County Democratic Party was the vehicle for $2 million worth of issue advertising supporting Dave Bonior and disparaging Jim Blanchard and Jennifer Granholm.

In 2006, the Michigan Democratic Party had spent $3 million for issue advertising attacking Dick DeVos by the time of the primary election.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network collects data on issue advertising from the public files of the states broadcasters and cable systems.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts research and public education on money in Michigan politics.

Some things are best done yourself

In November 2005, you’ll recall, more than 100 federal agents swooped down on Geoff Fieger’s Southfield law offices, and executed search warrants at several of his employees’ homes, looking for evidence of illegal campaign contributions.

Fieger, a staunch Democrat, and his main partner, Ven Johnson were indicted in 2008. They famously beat the rap last year. Part of their argument rested on the notion that the prosecution was the Bush Justice Department’s politically motivated brainchild.

Now, Fieger’s not the sort of guy to take all of that lying down. Fieger, or more to the point, Michael Deszi, one of his associates, filed a couple of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).

Deszi had an eye on establishing a political conspiracy regarding campaign finance law enforcement. He asked for any documents exchanged between the FEC and Bush Justice Department operatives.

Fieger, apparently displeased with the FEC’s response, named himself as plaintiff in a FOIA suit against the FEC.

Late last month, federal District Court Judge David M. Lawson dismissed the suit.

The problem, in a nutshell, was standing. Fieger didn’t have it. Wrote Lawson:

A plaintiff who has neither made a request for information on his own nor explicitly through counsel cannot show an injury in fact, which is a necessary constitutional requirement of standing.

Moreover, a plaintiff who bases a FOIA lawsuit upon the request for information by another person does not satisfy the prudential requirement that he must assert a violation of his own legal rights. …

[B]ecause there is no evidence presented that the named plaintiff ever requested information from the FEC, or that information was requested on his behalf, Article III standing has not been established.

The case is Fieger v. Federal Election Comm’n.

SCOTUS ends corporate campaign contribution prohibitions

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down corporate and union campaign finance restrictions in a 5-4 decision today.

In doing so, the court overturned the 20-year-old Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce , 494 U.S. 652 (1990). It also threw a wrench into to a case in Northwest Michigan, Grand Traverse Prosecutor v. Meijer Inc.

The court’s decision today in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission will allow corporations to make spending from their corportate funds on thing such as television ads in favor of, or against, a candidate. It will not affect, however, restrictions on direct contributions to candidates.

The Grand Traverse case will be affected by the decision. In that case, Grand Traverse Prosecutor Alan Schneider got the go-ahead in November to pursue a felony investigation of the campaign finance violations, when the Michigan Court of Appeals stated that a lower court had improperly dismissed an action by Schneider to compel Meijer Inc. and Dickinson Wright to comply with investigative subpoenas related to violations of MCL 169.254, which prohibits corporations from making election campaign contributions.

Said Schneider today in an e-mail to Michigan Lawyers Weekly:

Corporate contributions and expenditures was the principal violation focused upon by our investigation. The decision will preclude prosecution for that violation as the prohibition of that conduct was found to be unconstitutional. Sec. 54 of the MCFA was the subject of Austin v Chamber of Commerce. The decision in Citizens United, overuling Austin will apply to the 24 states which currently prohibit corporate spending

However, later, Schneider told the Traverse City Record Eagle that while the ruling will impact his pursuit of campaign funding violations by Meijer, it won’t kill the case entirely. See that story here.

For background on the Meijer case, see the Michigan Lawyers Weekly Jan. 4 story.

DeVos foundation linked to GOP battle on spending limits

While most were speculating that the U.S. Supreme Court would release an opion in Citizens United v. FEC, this from the Detroit Free Press:

“The Blotter from Brian Ross” on this morning identifies the Michigan-based Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation as among the major funders of a Republican effort to strike down limits on political spending enacted by Congress in the 2002 election reform law known as McCain-Feingold.

 The story has a link to the ABC story analyzing who’s funding the legal challenges to campaign finance restrictions.