By Brandon Hall
State Senator Arlan Meekhof pulled no punches in order to pass a shady campaign finance bill Wednesday night, booting all Senate staff from the floor except his own and ordering Senators to stay on lockdown under penalty of arrest.
The bill also eliminates "straight ticket voting," that facet of the bill has gotten a lot of coverage. Other key parts have not.
One facet not being covered: Meekhof flip-flopped on the robocall law he authored and subsequently touted during the controversial 90th State House primary in 2014. Now, anyone can put out a robocall and Michiganders have been stripped of their right to know who's calling to influence them.
According to Macomb Politics:
"In the state capital, the Legislature passed an anti-transparency amendment on Wednesday, essentially its last day of session for 2015, that would allow PACs and superPACs to wait until nearly six months after an election to report where their millions of dollars were spent.
A system that kept voters in the dark by allowing these special interest groups to report their campaign finances in the February after an election was extended to a springtime deadline, according to the bill language, long after the reports could shed meaningful light on the prior November vote.
For example, the February 2015 PAC and superPAC reports contained the first disclosure of more than $3 million of independent expenditures that supported or opposed candidates in Michigan's November 2014 state elections.
Rich Robinson, Michigan’s leading campaign watchdog, who has labeled Michigan the “dark money capital of the U.S.,” said the actions on Wednesday by the House and Senate were shameful.
"This legislation perversely delays the citizens' right to knowledge of who is spending millions of dollars to influence the outcome of Michigan election campaigns. Instead of delaying reporting, legislators should be acting to make records of massive independent expenditures available to the public before Election Day, so citizens can consider campaign messages with full knowledge of who is paying for them."
Reports say Meekhof used extreme measures to do his donor's bidding.
According to MLive:
"Republicans paved the way for the bill's passage using some rare Senate procedure. They cleared the floor of all staff except the Senate Majority Leader's, leaving Democratic senators without any staff members. Republicans also instituted a call of the Senate, meaning senators could not leave the chamber under threat of arrest..."
"That was just to focus everybody down on the task at hand," Meekhof said.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said the unusual procedure around the elections bills highlighted that they were moving Michigan backward.
"I think it's extremely egregious when they rig the rules today in order to rig the system," he said. "I think that's really telling and I think it's unfortunate... Why are you so willing to cave at the corporate demands? Why are you so determined to give dark money official footholds in our state?" he asked the Republican majority."
One aspect of the bill that is going almost completely uncovered: campaigns can now harass Michiganders with anonymous robocalls.
Interestingly enough, Meekhof himself wrote the original robocall law just two years ago, now he has flip-flopped...
State Rep. Andy Schor blasted the move:
"Do you like robo-calls during election campaigns? Do you like knowing who is actually making those calls? Well…thos...e that make the calls will no longer have to disclaim who they are because the Republican House majority eliminated that requirement this evening.
Tonight at 10 pm, the Republican majority in the House put up a bill that should have been non-controversial. They then adopted a substitute (over objections by House Democrats) to the bill with major election law changes at the last minute and put it up for a final vote without giving Democrats the chance to even read or review the substitute. So the Democrats all voted no.
After the bill passed (with only Republican votes) and we were able to actually read through the 53 page substitute, we learned that the bill eliminated the requirement in law for those who make robo calls to disclaim who they are. The bill also made other election law changes that are terrible for the people of Michigan. So I am happy I voted no, I am very disappointed that the Republicans played games in order to pass this awful legislation for the people of Michigan."
Just last year, in the 90th District Primary after a fake robocall was used by agents of Daniela Garcia against Geoff Haveman , Meekhof touted the robocall law as a positive change!
"State Sen. Arlan Meekhof sponsored a change to the Michigan Campaign Finance Act that requires disclaimers on all robo-calls within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election," his chief of staff Bob DeVries told the Holland Sentinel.
Brandon Hall is a lifelong political nerd from Grand Haven, and is the Managing Editor of West Michigan Politics.
>>>Email him at WestMiPolitics@Gmail.com