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Over the last two months, the Michigan Legislature passed a bill that threatens to open elections in Michigan to more outside spending and influence. Senate Bill 661, introduced by Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, would make significant changes to the 1976 Michigan Campaign Finance Act, making it easier for big money from special interests to influence Michigan’s democratic process.
Sen. Meekhof’s bill would double contribution limits for individuals and for PACs. The bill would drown out the voices of millions of Michiganians who cannot afford to make multi-thousand dollar campaign contributions. In the 2006 gubernatorial race, less than 2,000 Michiganians made max donations to either candidate. In the 2010 gubernatorial race, only 820 Michiganians hit the contribution limit.
The bill also allows for contribution limits to be adjusted every four years to account for inflation, ensuring higher limits and more big money in Michigan elections ad infinitum.
SB 661’s attempt to revise maximum contribution limits would only benefit a few hundred Michiganians, and would weaken the political voice of the remaining 9 million. It promises a hand-out to the state’s wealthiest special interests and lobbies, and would do nothing for everyday Michiganians.
Limits on campaign finance exist to protect the voices of everyday citizens. When a few special interests can bankroll entire campaigns, politicians listen to those few bankrollers, rather than to the thousands of folks back home who voted them into office. In a democracy, we have a responsibility to keep our public elections free from private influence, and to keep our elected officials responsive to their constituents. SB 661 does neither.
Raising campaign contribution limits is corrosive because it allows a few powerful organizations and individuals to provide the majority of a campaign’s funding. Democracy depends on civic engagement and political equality. By moving towards an era of more special interest money in Michigan’s elections, SB 661 moves us away from both.
Instead of raising contribution limits, we should work to encourage and empower small donors by limiting larger contributions, and matching small contributions with public funds. If we could do that, we would amplify the political voice of everyday Michiganians, put less special interest money in campaign coffers, incentivize civic engagement, and give our elected officials a better reason to listen to their constituents.
Sen. Meekhof’s amendment to the Michigan Campaign Finance Act is bad for democracy and bad for Michigan. A handful of well-funded individuals, corporations, and lobbies should not be able to wield more influence and authority the majority of Michiganians. We urge Gov. Rick Snyder to veto SB 611, and to uphold transparency and accountability in Michigan’s democratic process.
Eric S. Mosher is a public interest associate at PIRGIM.
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