By Dawson Bell/Detroit Free Press
LANSING - Wayne State University law professor Jocelyn Benson kicked off a petition drive to amend the Michigan constitution today that would require corporations to instantly disclose spending on political communications, a change she said is needed to prevent "shadowy organizations" from hijacking elections.
Benson, the 2010 Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, was joined at a state Capitol news conference by representatives of Common Cause and labor unions to announce a goal of collecting 450,000 signatures to place the issue before voters in November.
Benson said U.S. Supreme Court rulings had opened the door to vast amounts of undisclosed spending by corporations.
The ballot campaign will send a signal that "the era of unlimited campaign contributions without transparency is over."
Benson and her allies cited the court's 2010 decision in a case called Citizens United, which struck down portions of a federal ban on electioneering by corporations, unions and non-profit organizations. Benson said the state constitutional amendment would apply only to corporations because, she said, unions are already required to disclose political spending. She also said she believed the amendment would comport with the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United and other political speech cases.
The campaign for the Corporate Accountability Act will be funded by "grassroots supporters," Benson said, without ruling out the possibility of donations from unions and wealthy individuals.
Matt Frendewey, spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party attended the news conference, and called it the "most hypocritical...ever."
The campaign, he said won't comply with the disclosure requirements they want to impose on corporations, and Common Cause, like many non-profits, engages in substantial poltical and lobbying activities without disclosing its donor base.
Benson said the language of the proposed amendment would be available on the campaign website athttp://www.rightoknowmichigan.org.