Michigan Official Proposes Broader Disclosure Rule for Political Ads

Posted November 14, 2013 at 12:09pm

A state official has proposed a new broader rule to require sponsors of political ads to file formal reports and meet current campaign finance disclosure requirements.

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has the authority to promulgate new rules through the administrative rules process, which includes public hearings, required costs analysis and other reviews. She submitted a draft proposal to the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

The proposal targets political ads, whether positive or negative, that try to persuade voters about the worthiness or unworthiness of a candidate or proposal without using the words “vote for” or “elect.” The requirements would apply for ads appearing in the 30 days leading up to a primary election  and in the 60 days leading up to a general election. The proposal would affect all electioneering advertising, including print, online, TV and radio spots.

The disclosure of who is paying for political ads became a major issue after the 2012 Michigan Supreme Court races, when almost $19 million was spent, with the great majority attributed to attack ads funded by undisclosed donors. The State Bar of Michigan had earlier asked the Secretary of State to issue a declaratory ruling that the funders of “issue ads” in judicial election campaigns are subject to public disclosure. Secretary of State Johnson today declined their request, noting, “There is nothing in the Michigan Campaign Finance Act that would allow the Department to create a special carve-out exception for judicial candidates alone.”

Johnson’s pres release stated, “Because of a loophole in Michigan law, certain electioneering ads – which are carefully crafted to meet the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law – do not currently require any campaign finance reporting.”

“This isn’t partisan – as it stands now, both sides take advantage of this loophole and get around reporting requirements by implying how voters should vote but never saying it outright with the words “vote for,” Johnson said.
“In a country where free speech is protected, these ads are part of the political landscape and we can’t stop them – but when they try to influence an election, we can make sure the public knows who is paying for them,” Johnson said.
Michigan Secretary of State press release. Proposed ruleRequest for Rulemaking.