Bad timing in Michigan


TERRI Lynn Land, Michigan's secretary of state, has come up with a campaign-finance reform package that, on its face, looks like it would make the elections process Up North more transparent, particularly when it comes to political contributions. Too bad it won't get much beyond the press-release stage.

That's because this is an election year, a bad time to make a serious effort at any type of government reform. This is a cynical view, to be sure, but it's also well-established that politicians make insincere reformers with elections approaching.

And that's a shame, because Ms. Land's 10-point plan includes a number of useful changes. Among them is a requirement that all campaign contributions and spending be disclosed in so-called "real time" via the Internet instead of the current fixed date for paper reports.

In this electronic age, a rolling deadline with immediate Web posting makes sense. As it is now, the public finds out where a candidate or committee's money is coming from, and often it is spent too late to make an educated decision on what it all means.

Ms. Land also would require that sponsors and funding sources of issue ads be properly disclosed, which they aren't now. Although they ostensibly promote specific election issues, such ads often are thinly disguised attempts to shill for a candidate and are simply one more tactic to evade contribution limits.

While more campaign-finance disclosure is good for an informed public, many politicians don't view it that way. What they want is to keep the public - and especially their opponents - guessing about what they're up to. And the best way to do that is through disclosure laws that shed as little light as possible.

In short, don't look for the Michigan legislature, controlled by Republicans, to jump to enact the Republican secretary of state's program, at least not before the Nov. 7 election.

In politics, reform is always a matter of timing.