The Lead Curtain: MI Gov. Uses Water Crisis As Cover To Pass Anti-Democracy ALEC Legislation

While the world focused on the ecological and human catastrophe in Flint, Michigan, Republican Governor and morally bankrupt coward Rick Snyder pushed through yet more democracy-destroying legislation — and it’s even worse than the usual fare of ALEC-inspired BS.

SB 571

SB 571 has a storied history. When it was introduced in late October, it was a little over 10-page campaign finance reform bill that dealt with how organizations managing “separate segregated funds” collected and distributed those funds. It passed unanimously. However, by the end of the 2015 legislative session and right before the government adjourned for the year, Republicans added over 50 pages to the bill in a single frenetic, last-minute action.

They did this without a single hearing, without any commentary from the public at all, and with only Republican votes. And all the while telling their caucus members they didn’t have anything to worry about and everyone should feel okay voting for it without reading any of the new material that more than quadrupled the page count.

And Snyder signed the bill, while acknowledging the bill had “flaws” and calling on the legislature to fix these “flaws.”

So just what are these flaws? During the last-minute late night session, the bill ballooned to cover several new things, and it now:

  • Prohibits public bodies like government agencies (think librarians and Secretary of State staff) from distributing information about ballot proposals 60 days before the election.

  • Eliminates a February filing deadline for independent and political committees and reestablishes the requirement to file an annual report covering the period from October 21 through December 31.

  • Effectively doubles the amount of money PACs can donate to candidates for the second time in two years, quadrupling the limit since 2013.

  • Prohibits corporations from collecting contributions from its employees to a union’s PAC.

The director of state affairs for the Michigan Municipal League described the first point as a “complete gag order,” and explained, “The way it’s signed, communication is shut down. I don’t know any community that would feel comfortable having a meeting broadcast on their public access channel.”

Don Wotruba, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, noted the bill, “infringe[s] on the rights of local government to speak out and inform their residents.” Wotruba is joined by some of the Republicans who voted for the bill, like Rep. Dave Pagel:

SB 571 came back to the House and we were asked by our leadership to quickly accept the changes which, we were assured, were only minor. One of the House Democratic members raised concerns that there were around 40 pages added to this bill and no one had time to read them. As it turns out, his concerns were merited.

I am embarrassed to say that I, along with my Republican colleagues, voted “yes” on SB571 without knowing about the significant changes that were made to it. I trusted the House leaders because this came up late in the evening after many hours of session. This is the first time anything like this has happened during my tenure. I am demanding an explanation – which has yet to come – about why this happened and who was responsible. I have written the Governor, asking him to veto this bill so that we can take this language out. I have contacted several other Representatives who feel the same way I do. […]

The language in SB571 will be a detriment to both the voters and to those entities making ballot proposals. I will do whatever I can to stop SB571 as it stands. Even if it is signed by Governor Snyder, I will work to get this changed by further legislation.

This bill silences neutral sources of information and clears the way for an entire two-month period where not truth, not objectivity, but money, dominate the political discussion. In short, the sort of thing Republicans rely on, since neither truth nor objectivity are on their side.

For the second point, Michigan Campaign Finance Network’s Rich Robinson noted by eliminating the February quarterly reports for PACs and superPACs, it fails to discuss “one of the major anomalies in Michigan campaign finance reporting: the reporting of independent expenditures.”

In fact, this bill now means these independent expenditures remain secret until after the election. Even a toddler can understand how corrupting this influence is.

The third provision allows PACS to give and pay for “expenses incurred in any statewide campaign, effectively doubling the maximum donation — for the second time in as many years — from $68,000 to $136,000.”

From the Detroit Free Press:

Until 2013, individual donors could contribute only $3,400 per cycle, with PACs permitted to give 10 times as much. Snyder and Republican lawmakers sustained intense but short-lived blowback two years ago when they muscled through legislation raising those ceilings to $6,800 and $68,000, respectively.

SB 571 doesn’t explicitly raise those limits. But it authorizes candidates to accept up to $68,000 from a PAC in one campaign cycle and apply it retroactively to expenses incurred in a previous cycle — even if the same PAC wrote a previous $68,000 check in the heat of that campaign.

So a candidate who didn’t want voters to know how much money he was getting from, say, the Committee to Legalize Pot could cash a $68,000 check from that organization a few weeks before the 2016 election, accept a second donation for the same amount a week after that election, and use both checks to pay off the $136,000 credit card bill he ran up during Campaign ’16.

And, finally, the fourth item is more of that anti-union nonsense and big-government overreach we’ve come to expect from big-business types who want their nose in every aspect of your life. The prohibition isn’t for taxpayer-funded entities like schools, it’s a blanket statement targeting all corporations, privately held or otherwise — even if those payroll deductions were agreed on beforehand by all parties involved.

So what’s the rational behind it? Well, since it’s coming from Republicans and anti-union groups, you know it’s going to be a crock, and this statement from the “Michigan Freedom Fund,” an organization connected to the wealthy DeVos family, doesn’t disappoint:

The Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative political organization with ties to the wealthy DeVos family in west Michigan, celebrated the governor’s signing of the bill.

“It’s one of those reforms that I think is positive for the state and allows employers to stay focused on their core business,” said Greg McNeilly, chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund and a GOP political consultant.

The law ends a longstanding practice of labor unions getting companies to pay for the administration of collecting union PAC contributions, McNeilly said.

“Why should unions force employers to collect their political dues?” he asked.

To answer McNeilly’s last question: they don’t. It’s part of the contract negotiations both employers and employees usually agree on. It’s a ridiculous lie, like the idea the bill somehow allows employers “to stay focused on their core business” — unless their core business is screwing over their workers and voters, which is rapidly becoming synonymous with capitalism thanks to tools like McNeilly and evil people like DeVos.

Perhaps most infuriating, however, is these venal cowards used their own mess — poisoning an entire city — to hide themselves as they harmed yet more working-class Americans, either intentionally or unintentionally. And that’s an unforgivable evil.

Feature image via Facebook

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