What if the remnants of the American Communist Party got a million dollars somehow, formed a phony committee called "People for Good Government," and spent that money on TV commercials that attacked the ethics of judges up for election?
If they did that in Michigan, it would be perfectly legal. Voters would have no right to know who was paying for the ads.
That is outrageous. It makes a mockery of the notion that people should have enough information to make intelligent decisions, and that the accused have the right to know the identity of their accuser.
Last month, the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network released an eye-opening report about how bad things have gotten in Michigan. Most of the money spent on state Supreme Court races is now unreported. Statewide, at least $70 million in essentially anonymous donations have been made to various campaigns and candidates in just the past decade.
Fixing this doesn't present any legal or constitutional difficulties. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 last year that states may require disclosure of donors to any form of political communication, whether on behalf of a candidate or an issue.
All it would take is a vote by the Michigan Legislature and the governor's signature. But lawmakers show no sign of support for such a bill -- likely because they often are funded by donors who are happy to remain anonymous.
The study's author, Rich Robinson, observed that "the challenge is political courage," and asked: "Will elected officials of the term limits era stand with citizens against the interest groups who pay their way to the big dance?" So far, he concluded, the answer seems to be no, and he asked: "What will the citizens do about it?"
One answer would be to pressure lawmakers to do the right thing. If that fails, voters should collect signatures to put a referendum that would require accountability on a statewide ballot.
Michiganians don't deserve to be burdened with what could turn out to be the worst and most expensive government that anonymous money can buy.
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