Should employee PAC contributions be the default or require active participation?
Senate Bill 283 would eliminate Michigan's annual recertification requirement for deducting political contributions on an automatic basis.
Under current law, the default is for automatic contributions to end each year unless the individual involved certifies that he or she wants to keep contributing. Senate Bill 283 would switch that dynamic so the contributions would automatically continue unless the individual requested they be stopped.
Michigan's current annual recertification law (also called affirmative consent) was passed and enacted under former Gov. John Engler. It is most commonly associated with payroll deductions for Political Action Committees (PACs). When the measure was passed it was considered a major issue and widely seen as a blow against unions.
But it is apparent that attitudes in Lansing have changed. Senate Bill 283 was passed by the Republican-controlled state Senate on May 22 with a 36-1 vote. Such a lopsided vote, and the fact that it received little media attention, suggests that there has been virtually no active opposition to the legislation in Lansing.
The legislation is supported by some prominent businesses and business groups, some of which supported the current law when it was passed under former Gov. Engler.
Representatives of AT&T, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, Consumers Energy, DTE, Dow Chemical, and the Michigan Bankers Association, handed in cards in support of Senate Bill 283 when it was in committee.
On the record, the reason given for favoring the bill is that the annual rectification process is burdensome "red tape" for the businesses responsible for keeping track of the recertification process and making adjustments to their payrolls. Also, the current law is cited as a governmental mandate. Off the record, there is an additional reason. This is the assertion that the annual recertification process has hindered political fundraising efforts equally on both sides of the political aisle.
Senate Bill 283 is sponsored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, and co-sponsored by Sen. Rebekah Warren, D- Ann Arbor.
“Workers should not be forced into paying for political causes with which they do not agree,” said F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center. "The burden should always be on those wanting to use the money of others for politics to, as much as possible, assure that what they collect is from people who agree with them politically.
"Recertification is the best protection workers have to make sure they're not funding something that goes against their beliefs," Vernuccio added.
One of those supporting Senate Bill 283 is Steve Linder, president of the Sterling Corp., a Republican firm in Lansing that specializes in public policy, issue management, partisan campaigns and fundraising.
Linder said he and Bob LaBrant, who also is with Sterling, have been spearheading the effort to have the recertification law repealed, even though they strongly supported the measure when it became law under former Gov. Engler.
"While our intentions were good, the known consequence [of the law] has been a burden on Michigan corporations to solicit their employees annually," Linder said. "It has had a much greater and dramatic negative impact on them and on participation in democracy than could have been predicted.
"I now believe that the Annual Affirmative Consent law actually is a government mandate creating bureaucracy, red tape, and burdensome reporting requirements," Linder continued. "It creates a major barrier for employees to easily participate in democracy through their company's political action committee. The law has had the unfortunate effect of reducing participation of corporate employees in a demonstrable way while being a continuing cost and administrative burden."
Linder stressed that, even if Senate Bill 283 were enacted, those who decide not to contribute to a PAC will remain free to opt out.
"Our laws need to encourage participation in democracy, not stifle it," Linder said. "Senator Meekhof, at our request, has agreed to rid Michigan of this onerous mandate, and the red tape that comes with it. This would free up Michigan companies to recruit their employees to participate in political activities. Employees are free to make this decision, act, and at any time opt back out. Many employers showed up at the hearing on the bill to express their support of the legislation Bob and I are advocating."
After Senate Bill 283 was passed by the Senate, it was sent to the House and assigned to the House Elections and Ethics Committee. The bill was reported out of committee on June 18. Action on the bill by the full House is pending, but not expected until September.
Sen. Meekhof's office declined a request for comment. The office of Gov. Rick Snyder did not respond to a request for comment on the bill.