Why don’t Michiganders trust government? Where to start?
Both the governor and Legislature are exempt from state open records laws. Lawmakers from both parties are accused of drawing district boundaries to their advantage. More money than is funneling into campaigns and lobbying, and tracking its source can be difficult
“People feel like they’re being frozen out of the process,” said Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, which tracks money in politics.
That was one takeaway from a panel discussion Wednesday during a Michigan Solutions Summit in East Lansing from The Center for Michigan. Other panelists included Katie Fahey of the Voters Not Politicians group, Joe Richotte,a Michigan Press Association attorney, and Republican political consultant Jeff Timmer, Managing Partner.
Here are highlights of their discussion.
Redrawing legislative district lines
Fahey is leading a ballot measure to ask voters in November to change how legislative district lines are drawn. The plan would give the task to a panel representing both major political parties and independent voters, rather than the majority party in power.
She said the panel would be “accountable to thousands of people who are watching them do this job.”
“You actually get people acting better,” she said.
Timmer countered that Michigan’s political process already requires the districts to be drawn to reflect population and existing political boundaries – and the proposed reform could have the opposite intended effect.
“We’re going to find that there’s more politics, more bare-knuckles politics, involved in the redistricting process if this were to pass than has happened before,” he said.
Accessing government records
Only two states exempt the governor’s office, lieutenant governor’s office and Legislature from the Freedom of Information Act. Michigan’s status as one was exposed during the Flint Water Crisis.
“You have a group of people who have to decide whether they’re going to open up the doors and the cupboards, and they’re happy to keep them closed,” Richotte said.
A package of bills to expand the law unanimously passed the House in March 2017, but has stalled in the Senate. Both chambers are led by Republicans.
Mauger said the 10 most-expensive state House races in 2016 cost $11.5 million, compared to $3.7 million in 2002. The amount spent by interest groups to lobby politicians also has increased over the same period, he said.
He noted that more spending is coming from groups that operate independently of political candidates, whose donors can be hard to track — so-called “dark money.”
Timmer said laws exist to allow residents to follow the money.
“Voters can decide for themselves if they like the fact that a candidate is spending a lot of money, or not spending a lot of money,” he said.