As Republican lawmakers use the lame duck session in Lansing to strip political power from newly elected, incoming Democratic officials, the GOP has unveiled an election plan that would duplicate perhaps the most dysfunctional federal agency in Washington.
The move would remove the Secretary of State’s authority to oversee election campaign finances and hand those duties over to a panel of six political appointees. The proposal mirrors the hapless approach taken in the nation’s capital by the widely criticized Federal Election Commission (FEC).
If approved, Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, would be replaced in these long-standing duties by three election commissioners chosen by the Michigan Republican Party and three commissioners selected by the Michigan Democratic Party. Gubernatorial approval would seal the deal.
GOP lawmakers who control the Legislature claim this new bill is a “good government” reform, but these folks scarcely mentioned such a move over the past 24 years when Republicans held the office of Secretary of State.
The timing is oh so transparent. Unfortunately, state government is transparent only when lawmakers display obvious partisan motives that make our beleaguered system worse. Michigan already ranks last among the 50 states in government transparency. Holding up the FEC as a shining example is nothing short of bizarre.
So, how bad is the FEC’s track record? The commission (pictured above) frequently deadlocks as it often has wallowed in partisan gridlock for the past decade. A former FEC chairwoman commented last year that the group blocks enforcement actions, regularly ignores election law violations or drastically reduces penalties, and is actually working “to keep the public in the dark.”
What’s more, the basic process of the president appointing FEC members, with the consent of the Senate, broke down long ago. The panel is supposed to consist of three Democrats and three Republicans but it has had two vacancies for years.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, the FEC’s current four commissioners have been on the commission for a combined total of 32 years longer than they should have been. Scheduled departures are routinely ignored as Washington cannot agree on replacements. One commissioner has served 11 years beyond the end of her term.
Meanwhile, in Lansing the Secretary of State’s nonpartisan Bureau of Elections has received accolades for its handling of campaign finance rules. In addition, incoming Secretary of State Benson is known nationwide as an expert on state election laws and financing issues.
In an interview on WJR-AM radio in Detroit this morning, Benson said the bill represents “an end run around democracy” that would undermine enforcement of campaign finance laws because the panel would mostly be deadlocked.
According to the Associated Press, Benson said: “Voters … elected me to go to Lansing to do a job for them. This really is an insult to every voter in the state.”
Democrats have been crying foul for days as several 11th-hour pieces of GOP legislation in the state House and Senate have been designed to revamp the authority held by incoming Dem officials.
When Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel and Benson are sworn into office at the start of the new year, it will mark the first time Democrats have held all three of those top posts since 1990.
The first example was the approval earlier this week of a Senate Republican bill that would block public disclosure of “dark money” spent by nonprofit groups to benefit election candidates. Already, cash spent by these supposed charity groups is largely granted an anonymous status. But, if approved by the House, the new legislation would block the Secretary of State — Michigan’s chief elections officer — or any other state officials from exposing the names of big-bucks donors involved in this façade.
The GOP-controlled Senate on Wednesday passed amendments that would water down upcoming laws that will hike the minimum wage and grant paid sick leave to nearly all workers. Both of those measures were initiated by public petition drives.
A pending bill would circumvent Nessel’s role as Michigan’s chief law enforcement officer by allowing legislators to intervene in court cases challenging state laws or policies.