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Last week, Governor Snyder signed into law an amendment to the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. The new law doubled campaign contribution limits, and failed to require increased disclosure of "issue ad" spending, solidifying the presence of dark money in Michigan elections.
The new law is a blow to Michigan's democratic accountability and transparency, and threatens to give big, dark money even more political influence.
Raising campaign contribution limits will only benefit a tiny percentage of Michiganders. Out of the over 9 million people who live in Michigan, only 820 gave the maximum contribution in the 2010 gubernatorial election. The vast majority of Michigan's voting public was not inhibited by campaign contribution limits.
Big money in elections also removes the incentive for politicians to represent their constituents. When a few wealthy interests bankroll entire campaigns--when wins and losses are largely defined by fundraising prowess--legislators become more responsive to their funders than to their voters.
The new law also increases the power and prevalence of dark money in Michigan's elections, by keeping disclosure requirements for issue ads weak and ineffective. Issue ads, which attack or praise specific candidates without explicitly urging watchers to "vote for" or "vote against" them, wield huge influence over public opinion and electoral results. The bill that Gov. Snyder has signed unfortunately prioritizes the privileges of anonymous special interests over the public's right to know who they are.
The 2013 amendment to the Michigan Campaign Finance Act is a step in the wrong direction for democracy in Michigan. Instead of entrenching big and dark money in politics, Michigan should enact legislation that would encourage small campaign contributions with tax exemptions and matching public funds.
In order for Michigan's democracy to function fairly and in the public interest, we need to limit the amount of big and dark money in Michigan's elections. In signing Senate Bill 661 into law, Governor Snyder has promised Michigan less electoral accountability and transparency.
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