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Politicians spend far more on an election than the office pays

HOUGHTON — Lobbying is defined as “any direct communication with a lobbyable state level public official, to influence the official’s legislative or administrative actions. the communication may be face to face, by telephone, letter, electronic media or any other means.” This is according to the Michigan Lobby Registration Act, Public Act 472 of 1978, more popularly known as the Lobby Act. It is stated that “The People of the State of Michigan Enact…,” but it most likely that the vast majority of the people of the state of Michigan did not know in 1978, or today, that the 21-page manual on lobbying even exists.

The document defines “Administrative action” as “the proposal, drafting, development, consideration, amendment, enactment, or defeat of a non-ministerial action or rule by an executive agency or an official in the executive branch of state government. “Legislative action” means introduction, support, opposition, consideration, debate, approval, veto, delay, or an “official action by and official in the executive branch or an official in the legislative branch on bill, resolution, amendment, nomination, appointment, report or any matter pending or proposed in a legislative committee or either house in the legislature.”

Opensecrets.org defines lobbyists more succinctly: “Professional advocates make big bucks to lobby members of Congress and government officials on the issues their clients care about. But the money that industries, companies, unions and issue groups spend on lobbying is often just a drop in the bucket compared to what they can reap in return if their lobbyists are successful.”

In a campaign finance system, where all the money originates from individuals, political action committees, or PACs, control the most “corporate” of money, Open Secrets states. Controlled by companies, trade associations, unions, issue groups and even politicians (a subset called “leadership PACs”), these committees pool contributions from individuals and distribute them to candidates, political parties and other PACs. PACs can also spend money independently on political activities, including advertising and other efforts to support or oppose candidates in an election. The campaign and lobby economy can also benefit individual donors, while at the same time harming the state or national economy as whole.

On May, 2, 2014, John Craig and David Madland published “How Campaign Contributions and Lobbying can Lead to Inefficient Economic Policy,” on the Center for American Progress website, in which they stated that the primary way that campaign contributions and lobbying may dampen economic growth is via a practice known as rent-seeking–the process of seeking income through special government favors rather than through productive economic activity. They reasoned that when firms and individuals engage in rent-seeking behavior, it has several negative effects on economic growth: Not only do people spend more time and money trying to get a bigger piece of the economic pie for themselves, rather than trying to enlarge the pie, but the policies they seek are often wasteful, inefficient, or even harmful. If rent-seeking is a successful strategy for businesses or individuals, it can impose great harm on society by slowing or even stopping economic growth.

The report goes on point out that one study, based on data from 48 different states, found that a $1 corporate campaign contribution is worth $6.65 in lower state corporate taxes. Also, federal contracts were more likely to be awarded to firms that have given federal campaigns higher contributions, even after controlling for previous contract awards.

“These findings are deeply troubling for our democracy and our economy,” Craig and Madland wrote. “And, unless actions are taken, the damage is likely to grow worse in the future. With recent court rulings knocking down important restrictions on money in politics, rent-seekers will have even greater opportunity to seek special favors, doing further harm to the economy.”

Money in politics is apparent in the 2018 gubernatorial race between Democrat Gretchen Whitmer and Republican challenger, Bill Schutte, in which statistics suggest that political race was decided in favor of the candidate who wound up with the most money, and it raises questions of ethics, among others.

According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, Whitmer’s top campaign donors were the Democratic State Central Committee ($100,000), the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association PAC ($68,000), the Bernstein Family PAC ($68,000), the League of Conservation Voters PAC ($68,000), the AFSCME PAC ($68,000), the Michigan State Utility Workers PAC ($68,000), the Michigan Laborers Political League, ($68,000), the Operating Engineers Local 324 PAC ($68,000), the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters PAC ($68,000), the United Auto Workers Michigan Voluntary PAC ($68,000), Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan PAC ($68,000) and the Democratic Governors Association Victory Fund ($68,000).

On the other hand, the report states, Schuette’s top donor was — himself. He chipped in $325,000 for his own campaign on Oct. 21, 2018, according to his campaign finance disclosures. At the same time, the Center Square reports that the governor of Michigan now draws a yearly salary of $159,300, the 15th-highest salary among the governors of the 50 states.

Schuette would have had to serve as Michigan’s governor for more than two-and-a-half years to recoup his own contribution, had he won the election. In contributing such a large amount to his own election campaign, Schutte not only not only lost his $325,000, but his contribution, according to the MCFN, was illegal.

“While candidates for governor can generally contribute unlimited amounts to their own campaigns, that’s not the case for gubernatorial candidates who accept public funding as Schuette did in the primary election,” the MCFN report stated. “A candidate who accepts public funding can give his or her own campaign only $50,000 for an election cycle, according to official documents available through the Secretary of State’s website.”

Based on the most recent numbers, the average U.S. governor’s salary stands at $144,046.

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