On the Political Front

by Leo Sell, Legislative Committee Chairperson
Two recent legislative moves, one passed and signed, and the other still pending are worth noting by our members. First, in a display of majority muscle similar to what was displayed with the Right to Work (for less) legislation, a radical change to the Michigan Court of Claims was made. While numerous explanations and justifications were offered, the handling of the change doesn’t really strike me as honest governance. The change was rammed through in a matter of two weeks or so. Such a fundamental change to jurisprudence in Michigan should have involved many weeks of testimony and consideration. To do otherwise makes the purpose suspect.
The Court of Claims is important to people like you and me because that’s where lawsuits against the State begin. Issues such as the changes to state retirement, FOIA, Open Meetings compliance and much more have commenced with the Ingham County Circuit Court as the state Court of Claims for nearly 40 years. Some might speculate that the change reflects a  desire to be more “certain” of the outcome of current and future pending lawsuits. The Michigan Supreme Court tried to blunt partisan concerns by appointing 2 Republican and 2 Democrat appeals judges. That’s cold comfort. My own point of view is that if this was such a necessary and advantageous and necessary change, hearings and testimony would have made that clear.
One more aspect of this change of political rules makes it terribly suspect. It was passed with “immediate effect”. The fact is, in the Michigan House, there is not a 2/3 majority that would have supported this change had the votes been counted by roll call. However, that is not how the House operates. They “take” an immediate effect vote by voice and the presiding officer rules on whether in his/her judgement 2/3 of the assembly has voted in the affirmative. By such a voice vote and declaration, with the outcome occurring, frankly, according to the will of the presiding officer, there is always going to be a question about how honest these “votes” really are.
Another change currently pending involves campaign finance here in Michigan, with the Senate passing a bill to double up campaign contribution limits – which means those with large financial means can have even more financial/political influence. I’ll bet few reading this article are in a position to give thousands of dollars to a political candidate. We already have way too much private money in elections (personally, I’d like to see it virtually all gone and have political races publicly financed. I’d also like a return to the old style “fairness doctrine” as well. But both are highly unlikely.)
The bill in question also vacates a recent ruling from the Secretary of State that would have eliminated the ability to spend what is termed “dark money” on so-called issues advertisements. You know those – they start up shortly before an election and purport to speak to an issue, typically critical toward a specific candidate, but never actually advocate a particular vote for or against that candidate. The actual donors, people or organization that are sponsoring the ad is almost impossible to ascertain. The ruling would have required that the person/organization behind such ads be clearly identified. Wouldn’t you rather have that information than not? I certainly would like to know who is trying to influence a given election. See http://www.mcfn.org for more information.