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Editorial: Michigan's elections system needs reform

Date: 10/16/2012
Source: Traverse City Record-Eagle

As one of the busiest campaign seasons in memory enters its last three weeks, the major flaws in Michigan's political framework are becoming more obvious and of greater and greater concern.

Just ask East Bay Township resident Raoul "Buck" Montgomery. He said he found it "humorous" when political polling and automated phone calls started coming in to his home a few weeks ago.

That was then. Now, he's no longer amused. Montgomery is getting about a dozen political messages per day, and has found that there is essentially nothing he can do about it.

The federal Do Not Call Registry does not apply to political calls. And although more than half the states in the nation have some sort of restriction on automated messages, better known as robo-calls, Michigan doesn't. It should.

That's hardly our biggest problem. For years Michigan has had some of the nation's most anemic campaign finance reporting laws, which let political committees and other donors pour millions into so-called "issue" advertising with virtually no reporting requirements.

Other needed reforms include forcing all political committees to file campaign finance reports at least once per quarter (the same as the federal standard), and requiring all lobbying expenditures to be reported from the first dollar expended.

Michigan must also make it illegal to hire firms to gather signatures to qualify an issue for the statewide ballot. This year, billionaire Matty Moroun paid to gather the signatures that put proposals five and six on the Nov. ballot, both aimed solely at protecting his Ambassador Bridge monopoly. He has spent millions since then on fabricated TV ads to push the proposals.

Michigan must also make a foundational change in the way state Supreme Court justices are nominated. Currently, the major political parties nominate judges for the supposedly non-partisan court, which gives the entire process an unacceptable political taint.

Just last week, after a federal judge granted an injunction, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson was forced to reverse herself and ensure all Michigan municipalities have ballot applications that don't include a citizenship check-off box. Johnson had mandated the boxes for the August primary election even after Gov. Rick Snyder had vetoed legislation to allow them.

The odds of the Legislature making any of the needed changes to our political system are slim and none. Lawmakers thrive on the existing system, and those who call the shots for both parties don't want to have anything to do with change -- and they have millions of PAC dollars to call on to quash any such effort.

(c) 2012, Traverse City Record-Eagle