There were a lot of people – some of them Republicans -- who were shocked yesterday afternoon when Governor Rick Snyder signed a bitterly controversial campaign finance bill.
Many insiders expected he would veto it. In fact, The Detroit News, whose editorial page is sort of a house organ for the Republican Party, urged a veto.
Most attention in recent days centered on a provision that appears to prevent libraries or municipalities from providing any information designed to help voters understand what’s in a ballot proposal within two months of an election.
Yesterday, in signing Senate Bill 571, the governor said he didn’t believe the bill really did that, and added that legislative leaders had promised him they’d try to pass a new law fixing that.
Now, that’s a somewhat novel approach to government: Sign a bad bill on a promise the Legislature will fix it later.
But it is clear in retrospect that we’ve all been focusing too much on that particular clause. For one thing, this was a textbook study in how legislation should not be made.
This started out as a short, essentially non-controversial bill meant to improve the way political contributions are collected by both union and corporate political action committees.
Then, at the very last minute, a bunch of amendments were dumped into the bill that made it more than four times as long.
In today’s Detroit Free Press, columnist Brian Dickerson shows that even now nobody’s too sure who was behind many of these amendments, and that many of the Republicans who voted for the bill had no real idea what was in the final version, including veteran Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, the sponsor of the original law.
Some have buyer’s remorse.
But it’s also now clear the real reasons certain forces wanted this passed have little or nothing to do with libraries providing information to voters.
The final bill is expressly meant to hurt political funding for unions, not corporations. It would allow General Motors to collect payroll donations for GM’s political action committee, but would outlaw similar payroll deductions meant for the United Auto Workers.
It would also effectively double the amount a PAC could donate to pay off expenses on any single political campaign, giving such committees that much more sway over candidates.
The Free Press quotes one Republican who voted for these bills, Dave Pagel of Berrien Springs, as saying:
it is “part of this troubling process is that you don’t know who’s behind this or what their motives are.” I would say it’s almost equally troubling that representatives like Pagel voted for this, though they, as he said, were “ignorant” of what it meant.
Democrats, by the way, seem to have been as ignorant as the Republicans.
As has often been the case during the Snyder years, their opposition yesterday seems to have been confined mostly to whimpering; there doesn’t seem to be a fiery orator in the bunch capable of arousing public outrage.
Analysts have noted correctly that this bill gives even more power to big-money corporate interests. But what we need to stop doing is asking, as one columnist did, why Governor Snyder keeps going along with the Legislature’s hard-right agenda.
It now should be very clear that it is his agenda too.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.