A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled this week in a 4-3 decision that school districts may administer payroll deductions from employees for the benefit of the Michigan Education Association’s political action committee.

This overturned a Court of Appeals decision.

The MEA has in its union contracts throughout the state provisions that require districts to collect payroll deduction for the union's political action committee. The union asserts that it pays the districts for any related administration costs.

The Secretary of State had issued a ruling in 2006 declaring that the schools couldn’t collect payroll deductions because Michigan’s campaign finance laws prohibited a public body from taking contributions for a political action committee. The Department of State and the Attorney General both came to this same conclusion.

But the Supreme Court’s majority opinion this week ruled that administering payroll deduction wasn’t an “expenditure” under state law, and that payroll deductions were not “contributions.”

MEA officials didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment.

Patrick Wright, senior legal counsel for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said that the Supreme Court decision opened the door for politicians to use government entities to solicit political donations. Wright said this could mean that as long as politicians reimburse the public body for any expense, they can use it for campaign fundraising.

For example, while going to the Secretary of State’s office to renew a driver’s license, someone could be asked to contribute to the Secretary of State’s political action committee.

“Want to get a fishing license?” Wright said. “The governor can hit you up: ‘Do you want to contribute to my campaign?’ ”

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