LANSING — The Michigan State Senate has approved legislation that would shift oversight of campaign finance laws away from the Secretary of State’s office to a newly-formed bipartisan commission.
Last Thursday, the Republican-led legislature voted 25-11 in favor of Senate bills 1248-52, which were proposed by State Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc).
The legislation would create a “Fair Political Practices Commission” that would be comprised of three Republicans and three Democrats and would be based on the Federal Elections Commission model, said Robertson.
While Republican lawmakers have praised the measure, Democrats have argued that it is an attempt to weaken the authority of Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson, who campaigned on a platform of toughening campaign finance laws.
Genesee County Clerk John Gleason is one of the bills’ most outspoken opponents, saying the legislation would gut campaign finance laws and give oversight to a gridlocked committee that would be split along partisan lines.
“The Secretary of State is the right person to oversee campaign finance, which is why it’s been that way in Michigan for decades,” he said. “I’m glad to see that Jocelyn Benson wants to clean up the cesspool of money in politics and that’s why she’ll be an outstanding Secretary of State.”
Gleason, who is the chief elections officer for Genesee County, said campaign finance oversight needs to get tougher and should stay in the hands of the SOS, just as it has been under the last three Republican secretaries of state.
He has also criticized Robertson—the bills’ sponsor—for demonstrating a clear conflict of interest. According to the Detroit Free Press, Robertson has racked up more than $4,000 in campaign finance fines over a four year period and still owes $1,681 in penalties.
“That’s about the most perfect example of the fox guarding the henhouse that I’ve ever seen,” Gleason said. “Dave Robertson is part of the swamp that reformers like Jocelyn Benson are trying to drain.”
Campaign finance violations have been a growing bipartisan problem in the Michigan legislature. The Detroit Free Press reported in a 2017 article that 19 Republicans and 17 Democrats in the State House had accrued over $45,000 in late-reporting fees alone since 2015.
Gleason said if Robertson’s bills become law, it will become easier for campaign finance law violators in the legislature to cheat and benefit themselves by not reporting on items like campaign donations.
The bills will now head to the State House for consideration.
Robertson could not be reached for comment in this article, despite several attempts.