LANSING – The future of Michigan political campaigns is unfolding this week in Grand Rapids. The Mike Cox gubernatorial campaign and a corporate aggregator of undisclosed political contributions called Americans for Job Security are targeting Cox’s primary opponent Pete Hoekstra in a two-pronged ad campaign that graphically illustrates several deficiencies in Michigan’s campaign finance law.
Data collected by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network from television broadcasters and cable systems show that the Cox campaign is spending $100,270 in the Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo market this week as part of an ad blitz that is playing out across the state, except in Detroit and the Upper Peninsula. Americans for Job Security (AJS), a shadowy nonprofit corporation that aggregates funds from political spenders who seek the anonymity AJS provides them, has spent $136,620. Grand Rapids, Hoekstra’s political base, is the only market in which AJS is advertising.
The Cox campaign, which has met Michigan’s weak campaign disclosure requirements by filing just one campaign finance report so far, eventually will reveal its contributors. The candidate campaigns must file their pre-primary reports by July 23rd.
In all probability, the donors to AJS never will be known.
“Candidate committees file too infrequently for the people and the press to exercise the level of oversight needed for contemporary politics,” said Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. “We should require state officeholders and candidates to report at least quarterly, as federal candidates do.”
“The corporate activity is far more troubling,” Robinson added. “Our state doesn’t consider the AJS ads to be campaign expenditures, so no disclosure is required. With that being the case, we can expect an ever-increasing share of state campaigns to migrate off-the-books. Big-money political players prefer to exercise their influence in secret.”
The U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission included an 8-1 ruling that nonprofit corporate aggregators of political funds can be required to disclose their contributors. However, the Michigan Legislature has failed to act to require such reporting so far.
“Polling has repeatedly shown that Michiganders want robust disclosure of campaign spending,” said Robinson. “Transparency and accountability are conservative values and they are progressive values. The only ones being served by this willful state of ignorance are special interests.”
“Our legislative leaders can easily bring genuine transparency to the political process and it won’t cost the State of Michigan a nickel. In our current fiscal circumstances, this is an unusual opportunity to do something significant and positive for the people of Michigan,” said Robinson.
The third campaign finance deficiency on display with these ads is the failure to prohibit coordination of campaign spending between candidate campaigns and independent spenders, as is the case in federal campaigns.
“It may be one giant coincidence that these two ad campaigns rolled out at the same time in the same market with the same talking points,” Robinson said, “But the citizens of this state would be well-served if a prohibition on coordination was written into law. If an independent spender can coordinate with a candidate’s campaign, it’s functionally the same thing as giving the money to the candidate. That is particularly insidious when the independent spender doesn’t disclose its donors.”
Here is the text of the voiceover for the Cox campaign ad:
Michigan needs a bridge to prosperity. What bridges does Pete Hoekstra build? In Congress, Hoekstra co-sponsored the Bridge to Nowhere. Worse, he built a Bridge to Wall Street, voting for the bailout. Hoekstra voted to increase spending by one trillion dollars. Congressman Hoekstra is making big government bigger. Mike Cox fights it head on. Cox led the fight against ObamaCare, battled Granholm and stopped Blue Cross in their tracks. Tough enough to lead Michigan. Mike Cox for Governor.
Here is the text of the voiceover for the Americans for Job Security ad:
Good people can get sucked into the Washington DC tax and spend culture. My biggest disappointment? West Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra. Hoekstra voted for the Wall Street bailout and the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska. And Hoekstra supports a new tax on services like auto repair and day-care. And Hoekstra won’t sign a pledge not to raises our taxes even more. I expected better from Pete. Call him and tell him taxes and bailouts hurt Michigan families.