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Michigan legislature passes bill to protect ID's of non-profit donors

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

The governor’s desk is the next stop for a bill to protect the identities of non-profit donors, including to political advocacy groups.

It would be a misdemeanor for a public official to require non-profits to disclose their donor list for government review under the legislation the state House approved today. 

State Senator Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) defends his bill against charges it’s intended to shield big name political donors trying to influence Michigan politics.

“Transparency is always in balance with Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association.  It’s a very narrow pathway,” says Shirkey. “In this particular case, I think we have to err on the side of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association.”

Critics say Michigan lawmakers could protect non-profit charities and still allow for more transparency for political advocacy groups.  

Craig Mauger is the executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. He suspects business interests were behind the legislation.

“That’s one possible answer that there are a bunch of businesses who are trying to influence elections who don’t want people to know that they’re influencing elections because they want you to keep shopping at their store,” says Mauger. “They don’t want you to send them an angry letter that says I’m upset that you’re doing this.”

During the brief debate on the bill, a handful of Democratic state representatives rose to urge their colleagues to reject the bill and support greater transparency. No Democrats or Republicans spoke in favor of the bill.

SB 1176 passed on a 58 to 51 vote. The bill has already passed the state Senate.

After the vote, a small group in the gallery briefly chanted, “Shame on you.”

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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