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Commentary: Hijacking our constitution

If what I am about to tell you doesn’t make you angry and indignant, then you must be  completely cynical.

Huge corporations and other special interests have already spent $20 million on ballot drives designed to bend the  Michigan Constitution to suit their selfish needs.

They have spent $20 million; they’ve raised almost $30 million, and every sign indicates they’re just getting started.

These numbers, by the way, come from the  non-profit, non-partisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Rich Studley, who heads the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, put it this way, “I think  there’s a growing awareness in the general public that there’s an effort  underway to hijack the state constitution.”

Well, I am not sure to what extent he’s right about public awareness, but otherwise, he was dead on. Now when Studley said that, he was talking specifically about the one proposed amendment he most opposes: The one called Protect Our Jobs, which would  constitutionally protect collective bargaining rights for both private sector  and public sector workers.

Unions have raised $8 million to  put Protect Our Jobs on the November ballot. They seem to have collected more than enough signatures, but they have yet to be certified by the Secretary of  State’s office. Court challenges are possible, even likely, to all seven  proposals awaiting certification.

But assuming these things do get on the ballot, you can expect that the money that’s been raised and spent so far is just the first round. Something else is bound to happen, too. We can at least trace where most of this
money came from. 

However, Michigan has about the nation’ s worst system in terms of transparency and accountability,  according to the Center for Public Integrity. That means anonymous, so-called  “issue oriented” groups can raise and spend millions more without disclosing  their donors. Such groups  have already spent more than $6 million here to run down President Obama.

What strikes me as most horrifying, when I  look at these campaign finance reports, is that a single man spent more than $6 million in six months in a double-barreled attempt to pervert our Constitution to enrich
himself. Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun spent nearly $2 million to try to get an initiative on the ballot that would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature to raise any taxes.

And he, or technically, his company spent $4.6 million on an effort to get a  constitutional amendment to require a statewide vote to approve any new bridge  over the Detroit River.

Gov. Snyder says this would have no effect on the new bridge that has been announced, but Moroun disagrees. And some think he may spend $20 million before this is through. Clearly, this is a  perversion of democracy. But what can anyone do?

The U.S. Supreme Court said two years ago that essentially no limits could be put on corporate  campaign spending. But there may be a way to mitigate this. What matters is  advertising over the airwaves. The Federal
Communications Commission could  forbid  stations from accepting political ads, or put strict limits on  them.

That may sound radical, but so is the complete hijacking of our  state by special interests. We really need to give something a try.