Prohibition of payroll PAC deduction moves to House floor

The House Redistricting and Elections Committee reported out HB 5085 and 5086 with substitutes to the House floor on party-line votes. The bills would prohibit school districts from payroll deducting employee’s political action contributions.

Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake), sponsor of HB 5085, and Rep. Paul Opsommer (R-DeWitt), sponsor of HB 5086, testified that both bills represent a “strong firewall between public dollars and political candidates and their campaigns.” They claim the legislation does not prevent a public employee from writing a personal check in support of a candidate or being part of a candidate’s campaign.  Both legislators pointed out that the bills do not apply to private entities.

The Committee meeting saw challenges by the two Democratic members who questioned the intent of and justification for the bills. Minority Vice Chair Barb Byrum (D- Onondaga) and Rep. David Nathan (D-Detroit) offered several amendments to both bills which would clarify their intent and limit activities by private entities, but they were all voted down.

Opsommer continually asserted that the intent of the bills’ language was to “put into statute the rulings by the Supreme Court and the Secretary of State to protect private dollars.” He called the legislation a way of “preventing the renting out of government services and resources to partisan political candidates.”

In a Dec. 2010 case, Michigan Education Association v. Secretary of State, the state Supreme Court ruled that a school district could use a payroll deduction system for PAC contributions. But in June 2011, after a change in the makeup of the Supreme Court, it reversed its earlier decision and decided such PAC payroll deductions violated the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

Eric Doster, an elections attorney with Foster, Swift, Collins and Smith who represents the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, testified in favor of the bill. He reaffirmed Shirkey and Opsommer’s defense of the legislation, stating that the bills “promote policy of state neutrality and purity of elections.”  Opsommer denied having ever spoken with the Chamber.

Byrum commended all three testifying in support of the bills—Doster, Opsommer and Shirkey—for “staying on message.”