- Associated Press - Thursday, September 14, 2017

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Political candidates could solicit unlimited contributions for independent committees supporting them under bills the Michigan Senate approved Thursday.

Majority Republicans said the legislation would lock federal court rulings into state law, but Democrats countered it would guarantee more money flows into politics. The bills advanced after Senate leadership received assurances that the GOP-led House will pass them quickly next week.

Similar legislation stalled in the House last year.

The new bills would codify and expand upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. It led to a proliferation of independent political action committees - super PACs - and nonprofits that can take unlimited contributions from corporations, labor unions and others to spend independently to sway voters. The ruling, the biggest in a series of decisions declaring that limits on big-money contributions violate the givers’ free-speech rights, remains a partisan flashpoint.

All but two Republicans voted for the legislation on a 23-12 vote, while Democrats opposed it. A spokeswoman for GOP Gov. Rick Snyder declined to give his position on the bills.

“Citizens United rigged the game in favor of huge corporations, moneyed special interests and the wealthy and gave them undue control over our elections, government policy and our democracy,” said Sen. Rebekah Warren, an Ann Arbor Democrat. She said the legislation goes even further by letting candidates coordinate fundraising with super PACs and use the same vendors and lawyers.

But Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, a West Olive Republican, said “everybody should have free speech, and the Supreme Court has said that free speech equals money and what you give.”

State law now prohibits corporations and unions from directly making a contribution or expenditure, unless it comes from a segregated account funded with donations from individual employees. The bills would clarify that corporations and unions are allowed to spend independently.

The legislation also would let independent expenditure committees running ads or other communications use the same attorney, vendor or other agent that a candidate committee employs as long as that person does not convey information about the campaign’s “plans, projects, activities or needs.”

Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a watchdog group, was critical of the bills. He said federal candidates can solicit individual donations of up to $5,000 to a super PAC backing their candidacy. Candidates for state office, he said, would be able to solicit unlimited contributions to a super PAC, he said.

“Is it really independent when a lawmaker can go and say, ‘Give this money to this super PAC that’s going to support me’?” Mauger said.

He added that proving coordination between candidates and super PACs would be “made as difficult as possible” under the Michigan bills, while the rules are more restrictive at the federal level.

The idea that candidates and super PACs supporting them could share consultants but not information “is really unbelievable just on its face,” Mauger said.

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Online:

Senate Bills 335-36: https://bit.ly/2wsZYEW

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Follow David Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/David%20Eggert

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