Legislating against Santa Cox

“Political,” “misguided” and “malevolent” fumed Michigan Attorney General and 2010 Republican gubernatorial hopeful Mike Cox last week at a Michigan House Judiciary hearing.

The object of Cox’s wrath? Legislation sponsored by committee chair Mark Meadows (D-East Lansing) that would prevent the AG from handing out settlement money as he chooses when there is no aggrieved party to receive the funds.

Last March, Cox wanted to shower two Grand Rapids-area parks with $250,000 each. The money was part of a settlement Cox obtained from Countrywide Finance, a large mortgage lender that Cox accused of predatory lending practices.

This did not sit well with some politicos, who were upset that Cox had consulted with Peter Secchia, a Republican Party heavyweight who’s in charge of fundraising for the parks. A report in The Grand Rapids Press indicated that Democratic Kent County Commissioner Brandon Dillon felt that Cox’s proposed donation might have had as much to do with the AG’s political ambitions as it did with philanthropy.

Cox said his critics were the ones dragging politics into the matter but announced a last-minute change of plans and gave the money to Heart of West Michigan United Way.

It didn’t take Meadows long to introduce HB 4799, which, in a nutshell, would require left-over settlement money to be deposited into the state’s general fund to be disbursed through the appropriations process, instead of leaving it up to Cox to decide which charity or deserving institution should be favored.

Cox characterized the legislation as an attack on the power of his office. Meadows, according to a report in The Detroit News, says it’s not about curbing Cox, it’s about ensuring that money is disbursed transparently.

Otherwise, as the Detroit News quoted committee member Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield), Cox gets “to play Santa Claus almost. How do you decide who’s naughty and who’s nice?”

No one is questioning whether the money is winding up in deserving hands. It is, plain and simple.

But the proposed legislation prevents Cox from playing Santa Claus and would eliminate any suspicion, founded or unfounded, that there is any electioneering wrapped up with the gifts.