As McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), a case whose impact on our body politic could, critics say, be as damaging as Citizens United, is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court this fall, campaign finance issues and accusations of violations are surfacing in Detroit’s own mayoral race.
Detroit Forward, a PAC that supports mayoral candidate Benny Napoleon, is accusing Turnaround Detroit, the PAC going to bat for candidate Mike Duggan of violating campaign finance law.
“Many corporations and individuals have been fooled into believing they were donating money legally in the recent Detroit primary for mayor. As our complaint shows, this was clearly untrue. We are asking the state elections bureau to investigate, prosecute and stop a group, Turnaround Detroit, from taking the city backwards to a time when illegal campaign financing deals led to the recent downfall of a sitting mayor,” said Todd Perkins, attorney for Detroit Forward. “Detroit voters deserve better. Detroit corporations deserve better. Our community deserves to have the integrity of the campaign financing system protected.”
The charges, whether they have merit or not, are still serious because they are alleging that Duggan’s campaign “bilked the city’s leading corporations and individuals out of $1.2 million during the mayoral primary.”
Former State Sen. Samuel “Buzz” Thomas, who co-chairs Turnaround Detroit, was not available for comments at press time to respond to the charges from Forward Detroit.
Meanwhile, in the case that’s headed to the nation’s highest court, the justices will consider whether to eliminate the limit on the total sum that people can give directly to candidates and political parties in a single election.
The current overall limit for an individual making direct contributions to parties, political action committees (PACs) and federal candidates is $123,200 per two-year election cycle, but a win for the challengers in McCutcheon v. FEC could allow total contributions above $7 million.
The case is coming on the heels of the highly controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the court gave corporations the green light to spend unlimited sums in elections.
That decision, the biggest game-changer to date, led to unprecedented spending by the wealthy and corporations in the 2010 midterm congressional elections and last year’s presidential election. It also sparked a robust movement, led in part by Public Citizen, for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. The suit was brought by Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee (RNC).
McCutcheon claimed he made direct contributions to 16 federal candidates in recent elections and wanted to give the same amounts to 12 more.
Those additional contributions would have put him over the aggregate limit for candidate contributions in an election cycle, which in 2012 was $46,200, to federal candidates, made up of individual contributions of no more than $2,600 (or $5,200 in a two-year election cycle comprising a primary and general election).
He also says he wanted to give $25,000 to each of the three Republican national political committees, which would have put him over the $70,800 limit then in effect for party committees.
“Citizens United is bad enough in allowing big-money interests to spend large sums in support of candidates,” said Public Citizen attorney Scott Nelson.
“But at least those spenders must maintain an arm’s length distance from the candidates and parties.
“If McCutcheon and the RNC prevail, political parties and their candidates would be able to ask for, and receive, huge donations directly from contributors, maximizing the opportunities for corrupt bargains to be struck.”