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Just squeeze ’em

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It's been said that money is the mother's milk of politics. The problem with that is, when cash flows from the bulging teats of special interests into the gaping mouths of candidates, it's usually the rest of us who wind up getting creamed.

Consider this: Compared to 2002 (the last time the Michigan Senate and the elected state executive offices were on the ballot) the cost of Michigan political campaigns rose by 60 percent, according to a report released by the do-gooders over at the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

If Michigan's economy were growing at the rate contributions to political campaigns have been going up we'd all be preparing for a cushy retirement, says Rich Robinson, executive director of the watchdog group.

Particularly nettlesome, says Robinson, is a loophole that allows contributors who fund so-called "issue ads" to avoid public disclosure. As long as an ad avoids explicitly urging you to vote for a particular candidate, the sources of funds can remain hidden from the public. For example, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee spent about $800,000 praising the virtues of incumbent state Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan. The ads also encouraged voters to "thank" dear Maura for all her fine work. But, just because they didn't say "Vote for Corrigan," the ads, under our state's pitifully weak finance laws, weren't considered campaign expenditures. So we don't know where that PAC money originated.

More than $20 million was spent on such anonymously funded ads to influence Michigan's 2006 campaigns, according to the report.

"These are examples of the extreme liberty afforded wealthy individuals and interest groups in Michigan politics," the Campaign Finance Network reports. "At the same time, they are violations of any conventional notion of democracy. It is patently unfair to the great majority of citizens that one or a few individuals, or a single interest group can mount a marketing campaign that can swing an election, and this kind of power is frequently applied anonymously.

If there's a bright side to all this (and our readers know the lah-di-dah optimists here at News Hits are always looking to find the shiny galvanized lining of any garbage bin), it's that Michigan's voters showed that pouring cargo containers full of money into a campaign won't necessarily sway us. Normally, candidates who spend the most win 95 percent of the time. In 2006, the number dropped to around 91 percent of the biggest spenders winning. The notable exception, though, came in the governor's race. Gazillionaire right-winger Dicky DeVos and his lovely wife, Betsy, poured $35.5 million of their personal fortune into a campaign that had a total of $42.5 mil in receipts. (Still, we gotta believe D & B have been reduced to dining on Hamburger Helper only occasionally in order to scrape by.) The victor, Jennifer "Jennybelle" Granholm, on the other hand, only collected a measly $15.7 million.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com

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