Michigan Gov Signs Law Protecting Secrecy of Campaign Ad Buyers, Doubles Campaign Contribution Limits


On Friday, Michigan Governor Rick Synder signed a bill into law that will effectively double campaign contribution limits for state and local elections. The bill also protects the identities of entities behind political issue ads in the state. The bill was controversial when it made it to the Governor’s desk and is likely to be a major issue in the 2014 election cycle there.

The bill includes new protections for entities behind campaign advertisements, effectively putting an end to efforts by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to have more transparency around those campaigns. In a statement, the Governor said he believes the bill adds transparency while “preserving the Freedoms of Speech and Association, enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The new law does require that voters have up-to-date information on who is contributing money to candidates and how candidates are spending that money. However names and addresses of groups do little to shed light on the donors backing them. The Detroit Free Press notes that as a candidate running in 2010, Synder himself was against issue ads from opaque groups. “In explaining his reversal, he said he has recently been educated to the value of anonymity in protecting First Amendment rights,” the article says. Political ads and dollars in Michigan have increased since 2010, through the 2012 election cycle and are likely to continue into the 2014 cycle in light of Synder’s controversial policies and Detroit’s bankruptcy.

Even if entities or individuals don’t opt for ads, they will also be able to contribute double the amount that they were able to in previous election cycles. The new bill raises contribution caps to $6,800 for statewide offices, to a candidate for state Senate to $2,000 and to a candidate for the state House to $1,000. The figure is still less than the rate of inflation from the prior law, the Governor said.

In an Op-Ed written about the bill, the Governor underlines the idea that big money politics is simply politics scaling to the rate of inflation. A bold statement given that the only things that seem to keep pace with the rate of inflation are corporate profits and political contributions. “In our political system, Americans exercise their rights to free speech and free association by making campaign contributions to candidates whom they strongly believe in. Whether Democrat, Republican or independent, voters freely choose to voice their support with their hard-earned money.”

Nearly four decades ago, Michigan’s legislature justifiably set limits on how much an individual can contribute to a candidate. But for nearly 40 years, those limits stood still, not keeping pace with the times. Under this new law, those limits on campaign contributions have been doubled (an increase that is less than the rate of inflation from the prior law), striking the balance between a voter’s right to contribute to the political process while preserving necessary limits to ensure the integrity of our electoral system.”

We are left to wonder when political leaders might take the same view of the real wage rate, which has steadily declined relative to the rate of inflation.