Hirten: Improve campaign finance law

Quarterly reporting must be a requirement

Lansing State Journal

Columnists
Mickey Hirten

Anyone who has ever used the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor knows it’s an inadequate international crossing. The delays are maddening; the Canadian routing is awful. Yet actions needed for a new, no-cost-to-taxpayers bridge is as stalled as the traffic.

Owners of the existing bridge, the Moroun family, have contributed generously to key legislators debating an alternate bridge proposal. Most members of the Senate Economic Development Committee, where most of the wrangling has occurred, take Moroun contributions. The chairman and vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee take Moroun money. The Speaker of the Michigan House, who assigns the bridge bill, takes Moroun money. And all we know about is contributions in 2010. We won’t know about 2011 Moroun money until 2012.

Here is an abbreviated look at the Legislature-Moroun connection, courtesy of reporting from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

In 2010, the M.J. and Nora Moroun Committee gave $333,225 to assorted Michigan political action committees, which in turn distribute millions to individual Senate and House candidates. This muddies the money trail, but not the influence.

On the Senate Economic Development Committee, which 3-2 (2 Dems abstained) voted no on the New International Bridge Crossing on Thursday, the Moroun family money comes in many ways.

Chairman Mike Kowall (no), R-White Lake Twp., received no direct contribution. But his wife, Eileen, from the 44th House District, got $500 contributions from M.J. Moroun and from Matthew Moroun. Vice Chairman David Hildenbrand (yes), R- Lowell, received no direct contributions from the Morouns. But five large political action committees that received $67,500 from M.J. and Nora Moroun contributed $625,000 to Hildenbrand for the 2010 election. The same five favored Moroun PACs also gave $535,767 Geoff Hansen (no), R-Hart, and $5,000 to Judy Emmons (yes), R-Sheridan, both committee members.

Of course, there were direct contributions from the Morouns to committee members. Hansen got $4,000; Mike Nofs (no), R-Battle Creek, $2,000; Emmons, $500; Virgil Smith, D-Detroit, $1,000. Only Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit, escaped Moroun largesse.

In the Michigan House, where bridge legislation could at some point be debated, Transportation Committee Chairman Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt, and Vice Chairman Ben Glardon, R-Owosso, both got Moroun money – $1,000 each in 2010. The Transportation Committee likely will handle a bridge bill. But Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, can direct committee assignments. He received $6,000 in Moroun money.

Clearly, contributions like those from the Morouns buy influence or access. It’s the system. But we ought to know who gives how much and when. Michigan’s campaign finance laws should require quarterly reports, as federal law does.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson could promote that, but hasn’t. It was a glaring omission from what she touted as “comprehensive” reforms unveiled on Oct. 12.

She refuses to discuss why. Maybe it’s the money. In 2010, Johnson received $6,800 Matthew and Lindsey Moroun.