Michigan Republicans are determined to keep ‘dark money’ in the dark
This post was written and reported by contributor Dawn R. Wolfe through our Daily Kos freelance program.
Michigan’s Republicans have lost their ability to gerrymander voting districts. They have lost every top office, from governor to secretary of state. But before they lose their choke hold on the state’s government, they plan to give one last parting gift to corporate donors and others seeking to influence Michigan elections—a bill that would shield the identity of donors to “dark money” groups.
That gift is in the form of Senate Bill 1176, which according to the bill’s text would “… prohibit public agencies from requiring certain nonprofit entities to disclose personal information of their members, supporters, volunteers, and donors in certain circumstances.”
According to a Nov. 16 report in the Bridge, Senate Bill 1176 was introduced less than 48 hours after Democrats outperformed Republicans at the polls on Election Day. The bill is sponsored by incoming State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who according the Bridge report said, “donors may be discouraged from giving to nonprofits if they believe they would be identified without their permission.”
In other words, private citizens would not have the right to know what causes or candidates they may be supporting when they choose where to spend their money. This in a state that has already earned an “F” in transparency from the Center for Public Integrity.
Campaign finance experts, according to the Bridge report, say the bill would make it harder to track foreign attempts to influence Michigan’s elections. The report quotes Anna Massoglia, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, who calls the bill, “really dangerous.”
“Especially with the threat of foreign influence being such a big issue right now, it would be extremely difficult to tell whether someone was a legitimate donor in the U.S. or someone outside of the U.S.,” she said.
This year, the Trump administration’s IRS announced that it will not require politically oriented nonprofits, which fall under section 501(c) of the tax code, to report their large donors in tax returns. Any attempt at transparency is now up to the states.
Under Shirkey’s bill, Michigan officials wouldn’t be allowed to provide voters with that transparency. Many of these nonprofits are funded by the kinds of corporate money that have become increasingly problematic to voters.