Associated Press

LANSING (AP) – On their last day of voting before an election year, Michigan lawmakers moved Thursday to raise maximum contributions to candidates for the first time in decades and keep intact rules so donors behind certain political ads can stay anonymous.

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The main campaign-finance bill won final approval along party lines in the Republican-led Senate after barely clearing the GOP-controlled House a day earlier.

Donation limits to candidates and legislative caucus committees would double after going unchanged for 37 years and then rise with inflation over time. The legislation also would codify that spending on issue ads, which define a candidate’s suitability for office without specifically calling for their election or defeat, aren’t subject to campaign-finance reporting.

If Gov. Rick Snyder signs the bill, it thwarts Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s plan to require disclosure of individual donors to the ads like is mandated with ads urging voters to support or oppose candidates.

“I’m glad I was able to bring this issue to the public for more discourse and that the Legislature voted to increase disclosure in elections,” said Johnson, whose move last month infuriated GOP-friendly groups. “The increased candidate committee reporting (in non-election years) and expanding electronic reporting to locals are positive steps toward transparency and accountability.”

Critics such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce say Johnson’s rule would violate free speech and association rights and conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court. But the Michigan Campaign Finance Network watchdog organization contends that lawmakers shouldn’t allow “dark” spending in state campaigns to continue.

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Democrats voted against the bill.

“In the 2010 election, 99.99 percent of Michiganders did not max out the amount of money they could give to a campaign,” said Rep. Theresa Abed of Grand Ledge. “There’s absolutely no reason to double these maximums except to allow special interests to overly influence the outcome of elections.”

The legislation’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Arlen Meekhof of West Olive, has said the cost of running for office has gone up over the decades and raising the limits will help both sides of the aisle. And conservative groups commended the Legislature for protecting individual backers of issue ads.

“By allowing citizens who choose to speak through issue ads to maintain their privacy, this bill ensures the people can speak confidently and without fear of bullying or coercion,” said Scott Hagerstrom, state director of Americans for Prosperity.

The legislation also would require that robocalls expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate include the name, telephone number, address or other contact information of the person who paid for the pre-recorded telephone call.

[Senate Bill 661]

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