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“Citizens United” bills: From Senate to governor’s desk in less than a week


Republicans in Lansing worked at a breakneck speed Tuesday to pass legislation that would allow politicians in Michigan to solicit campaign contributions on behalf of political action committees.


The bills had their first House committee hearing Tuesday morning and were headed to the governor’s desk by the end of the day. They’d passed in the Senate late last week.


Lawmakers backing the legislation say they have to move quickly because the Secretary of State wants clarification on how much money can be given to certain types of Super PACs.  


Fred Woodhams is with the Secretary of State. He said since Citizens United, the department has been unsure which political action committees are required to report their fundraising and spending to the state.   

“It caused a lot of ambiguity both for us on how to enforce the law and then for committees who are super PACs,” he said. “So this law would provide some clarity for us going forward.”


Supporters say the legislation codifies the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision. That decision said corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Super PACs can’t give money to candidates or political parties. But they can spend all they want independent of the campaigns.


Critics say the bills would mean more untraceable money in campaign spending.


Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, joined almost all his fellow Republicans in the House to vote yes. He said there are plenty of reporting requirements in the bills. 


“This bill is quite the opposite of a dark money concept. This bill is a light money concept,” he said.


Other Republicans, like Sen. David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, argue that political contributions are a form of free speech.


“Passage of Senate Bills 335and 336is about the preservation of fundamental first amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press,” said Robertson.


Democrats in the house were united in their opposition to the bills. They said giving deep pockets a way to get unlimited amounts of money to candidates isn’t fair. While this has been going on for years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed those limits in 2010, what is new is that politicians would be able to solicit money for those committees.


Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, said that’s bad policy.


“I don’t see a policy argument for this because we are basically blowing up any limit that a candidate can solicit donations,” he said. “And that is the heart of my concern of this.”

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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