Sunlight Foundation

Citizens United: Michigan's response

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United v. FEC case has rendered 24 states' election laws unconstitutional. The 5-4 ruling in favor of Citizens United reversed a provision of the McCain-Feingold act that prohibited any electioneering communication—defined as advertising via broadcast, cable or satellite that is paid for by corporations or labor unions. Many states have acted fast to counter corporations’ ability to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections by passing laws that force disclosure of all independent expenditures in near real time. The Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group has decided to report what each of these states is doing to respond to the highly-contested ruling. Today we're looking at Michigan:

State: Michigan

Bill: Declaratory ruling

Passed: N/A


In a declaratory ruling, the Michigan Department of State issued new campaign finance rules for any organization wishing to make independent expenditures. The state was directly affected by the Citizens United ruling by making restrictions set up against independent expenditures unconstitutional.

The ruling has effectively reversed parts of the Michigan Campaign Finance act of 1976 prohibiting such expenditures. Now, corporations and labor unions that wish to make independent expenditures can.

If a company does create an electioneering communication, for example, it has to be registered as a Political Action Committee (PAC). The expenditure, like other types of political spending, has to be reported to the Michigan Secretary of State. It is unclear from the Secretary of State’s Website whether or not the reporting has to be in real time. Reports reviewed for the purpose of this piece were biannual, meaning the corporations only have to report twice a year. That could prove problematic during election season and in the weeks immediately preceding votes because the level of influence via spending tends to increase and become more focused as races come to a close. On a positive note, the searchable database was very easy to navigate and contains at least five years worth of data. The document provides information regarding who or what the money was intended to support.

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