Lame Duck: Republican-led Michigan Senate OKs bill to strip Democrat's power

Unclear if Gov. Snyder will approve bills

Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan.  (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

LANSING, Mich. – The Republican-led Michigan Senate voted Thursday to strip campaign finance oversight from the secretary of state and have a bipartisan commission handle the functions instead, less than a month before a Democrat leads the office for the first time in two dozen years.

The main bill was sent to the GOP-led House to be considered as early as next week, following a similar move to restrict the powers of incoming Democrats in neighboring Wisconsin . Outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has not indicated whether he supports the campaign finance legislation or other measures that opponents contend would curb top Democrats elected last month.

The Senate also approved measures to implement a voter-approved constitutional amendment that allows same-day voter registration, over criticism that the legislation could conflict with the voters’ intent and should wait until after the frenetic lame-duck session.

Michigan’s secretary of state is responsible for enforcing the campaign finance law and issuing binding declaratory rulings related to political spending. The measure would shift campaign finance powers from incoming Democrat Jocelyn Benson to a new bipartisan Fair Political Practices Commission — modeled after the Federal Election Commission — with six members appointed by the governor after being nominated by the two major political parties.

Sen. Steve Bieda, a Warren Democrat, said Republicans “refuse to accept the consequences of the election,” criticizing what he said would be a “bogus” panel.

But the GOP sponsor, Sen. Dave Robertson of Grand Blanc, said 23 states have some form of a commission to enforce campaign-finance laws.

“This idea is not unique,” Robertson said, contending that the panel could work in bipartisan fashion.

Democrats, however, said Republicans never raised the idea until the party was about to lose control of the secretary of state’s office. Benson’s campaign platform included a proposal that corporations and unions make public their spending on so-called “issue” ads.

“Senate Republicans have voted to gut enforcement of Michigan’s campaign finance law,” she said in a statement following the 25-11 votes along almost entirely party lines. “Their hyper-partisan approach is in sharp contrast to my goal of collaborating across the aisle to take Michigan from worst to first in ethics and transparency. Their action is an affront to every taxpayer who wants and deserves a government that is transparent and accountable.”

Other bills approved 26-10 Thursday would impose a five-year statute of limitations on criminal charges related to campaign finance.

The legislation to execute the voting-related ballot measure drew objections from Democrats and other proponents of the initiative. The GOP majority said there needs to be clarification of where people could register on Election Day because local clerks expressed concerns about potentially having to register them at crowded polling places.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which backed the Proposal 3 ballot initiative, said it was “very happy” with the progress after the Senate made changes to the legislation. Legislative director Shelli Weisberg said the bills now would let people registering to vote in the two weeks before an election submit an affidavit if they do not have photo identification, which she referred to as “an important hurdle” that was addressed.