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Michigan House considers bill to close campaign finance loophole

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A bill in the Michigan House would set fundraising rules for elected officials fighting a recall effort.

The bill is a response to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s re-election campaign fundraising heavily last year when she faced multiple recall petitions.

State Representative Ann Bollin (R-Brighton Twp) said Whitmer used a 1984 ruling from former Secretary of State Richard Austin to get around personal contribution limits.

“Secretary of State Austin noted that since a recall vote does not fill a public office, it must be concluded that the candidate committee of an office holder subject to a recall is not a candidate committee of a candidate for state elective office. Therefore, the personal contribution limits did not apply,” Bollin told the state House Elections and Ethics Committee.

She said her bill would close that exception.

“The targeted recall candidate would be required to form a separate recall committee. The committee would be subject to contribution limits. These caps would mirror the caps on personal and corporate giving restrictions that exist for regular campaign committees,” Bollin said.

State Rep. Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) is among the bi-partisan group of co-sponsors of Bollin’s bill. He said he sees it as commonsense reform more than responding to the governor or any particular official.

“It just makes sense,” Aiyash said. “When [there’s] a petition to try to recall an elected official, that any funding used to either support or prevent it should be in a separate fund.”

The Michigan Department of State said it’s not ready to support the bill yet but is willing to work with lawmakers on it.

Michigan Department of State legislative policy director Erin Schor said her department has some concerns about the bill. For example:

“Gubernatorial recall elections are different than those for all other elected officials and there could be multiple elected recall committees against a sitting governor. And this bill as it’s currently drafted would only allow for ... the subject of the recall to raise into one account,” Schor told the committee.

Aiyash said he feels lawmakers can find common ground with the state.

“I certainly hope that my colleagues will work with all the departments in the executive branch to try to find a good solution for this. That’s what the committee process is for. I certainly trust Secretary Benson’s judgment and opinion on this,” Aiyash said.

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