Jocelyn Benson wants to bring greater transparency to political campaigns and lobbying efforts in Michigan, and the Wayne State law professor kicked off a drive Wednesday in Lansing for an amendment to the state constitution that would do just that.
If approved by voters, the Corporate Accountability Amendment would require immediate public disclosure of information about political and lobbying communications funded by corporations. It would also force corporate sponsors to identify themselves in political advertisements. Violators of the proposed law would be subject to fines up to $5,000 and could face up to three years in jail.
Benson, a former Michigan Secretary of State candidate, launched the campaign to put the amendment on the November ballot with the group Common Cause Michigan.
Melanie McElroy, Common Cause Michigan's executive director, is co-chairing the campaign drive with Benson. She said the campaign emerged from conversations over the impact of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as Citizen's United that paved the way for unlimited political spending and contributions to political action committees by independent groups.
McElroy said Michigan has no laws providing for disclosure of the type of contributions allowed under the ruling.
"When we had the [presidential] primary last week, we did see ads show up that had funny names, as Super PAC's ads often do in these situations. And we don't know who's behind them," McElroy said. "Voters deserve to know who's influencing elections."
November's election could include several other citizen initiatives on the ballot. This year activists around the state have been gathering signatures for an effort to repeal Public Act 4, to legalize marijuana for citizens over the age of 21, and in a renewed attempt to recall Gov. Rick Snyder.
McElroy said she believes this level of citizen involvement will benefit the Corporate Accountability Amendment campaign.
"I think the good thing with having so many people on the ground is that we're able to keep our spending local and we're able to tap in to this infrastructure that's happening on the grassroots level in Michigan," she said.
The state of Michigan requires 322,609 signatures to place an amendment to the state constitution on the ballot, but organizers are aiming for 450,000. The signatures must be turned in by July 9 of this year.