LANSING – Calling sunshine a great disinfectant, Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson Monday announced a series of proposals to increase voters’ access to candidates’ campaign contribution records.
The announcement comes during National Sunshine Week, which runs through March 16 and promotes open government and freedom of information.
“It’s been said that sunshine’s a great disinfectant,” Johnson said. “Our goal is to apply some of that sunshine to Michigan’s campaign finance reporting so citizens can continue to have confidence in our elected officials. Transparency promotes accountability.”
Johnson’s proposals include:
• Extending Michigan’s electronic campaign contribution reporting system to local candidates, not just state-level candidates. This will make it easier for voters to “follow the money” because they’ll be able to go online to see who is contributing money to candidates and committees, even at the local level.
• Expanding campaign contribution reporting during non-election years for state candidate committees.
• Real-time reporting requirements – within 48 hours – for contributions of $1,000 or more to statewide candidate and ballot committees. This will help ensure voters have access to the latest possible information.
• Additional financial reporting for ballot question committees so voters can find out who is funding those efforts. Under the changes, it would also make it easier for the public to track those reports.
• Having more candidate committees reporting electronically so voters have easier, online access to that information. Under the change, candidate committees that file with the Secretary of State’s office and earn or spend $5,000 a year – instead of the current $20,000 – would be required to file reports electronically.
Johnson herself has long shared her personal and campaign financial records publicly beyond what is called for legally. Her Secure and Fair Elections, or SAFE, initiative included tougher campaign finance laws, increased election transparency and reporting, and stopped candidates from using campaign money to pay for legal expenses unrelated to their campaigns.
As a former state representative, Johnson said she used Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act to help investigate the misuse of school funds. A school official was later sent to jail. Johnson said her fight to access information the public had a right to see is a lesson that has stayed with her.
Johnson will work with legislative partners to introduce necessary legislation to institute her proposals.