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The Trump administration finalizes a coal-friendly emissions rule for power plants. Also on today's rundown: A new development in the debate over the 2020 Census citizenship question; and why "Juneteenth" is an encore celebration in Florida and other states.

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Nine Years After Citizens United, Calls for Transparency Grow

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network says 11 super PACs spent more than $20 million in the state from Jan. 2017 to Oct. 2018. (Cohdra/Morguefile)
The Michigan Campaign Finance Network says 11 super PACs spent more than $20 million in the state from Jan. 2017 to Oct. 2018. (Cohdra/Morguefile)
January 21, 2019

LANSING, Mich. — Today marks nine years since the U.S. Supreme Court changed campaign finance laws in the Citizens United case, and opponents are still fighting to stem the tide of political contributions from unknown sources.

The justices ruled in 2010 that corporations have many of the same legal rights as individuals, and the money they spend on politics is protected as free speech. This led to the creation of super-PACs that poured some $800 million into American elections between 2010 and 2016. Kaitlyn Sopoci-Belknap, national director with the Move to Amend coalition, said her group is seeking a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision.

"At the end of the day, it has to be in the Constitution that the corporations don't have the same rights as of people,” Sopoci-Belknap said. “They were never in there before; the court is who put that in there. And so, we have to clarify, and put them back in their place."

Michigan is not among the 19 states that have endorsed the We the People Amendment. And in 2017, former Gov. Rick Snyder signed SB 335 and SB 336 - bills intended to bring state law in line with the Citizens United decision and to allow candidates to solicit unlimited contributions to so-called independent expenditure committees.

In December, the Republican-controlled Legislature tried but failed to take campaign finance oversight away from the incoming Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat. In the U.S. Senate, Democrats introduced HR 1, which would increase disclosure requirements. But the legislation is unlikely to get a vote, since Republican leadership opposes it.

Sopoci-Belknap said she thinks both sides should come together to lessen the influence of money on politics.

"The leadership in both parties is not really taking cue from regular citizens, from the voters,” she said. “This is probably the one issue that has more consensus - from every direction of the political spectrum - than anything else."

According to the watchdog group ProPublica, independent PACs dumped $4.5 million dollars into the U.S. Senate race won by Democrat Debbie Stabenow, and more than $26 million into hotly contested state races. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network said the 2018 election was the most expensive in state history, with almost $300 million spent from all sources on state and federal races.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MI