By Bob Robinson
During the 2008 election cycle, more than $34 million was spent lobbying Michigan legislators and supporting political candidates. That's more special interest money than in the history of Michigan elections.
“Special interest money overshadows our state government and smothers our elections,” says Bob Robinson, a candidate for State Representative of Eaton County, House District 71 in 2010.
“Citizens watch in disbelief as our government officials make decisions with seemingly little common sense. People wonder why there's no logic to some of the laws enacted. But the full story is often told if you follow the money trail and track lobby spending and the campaign donations that are made by special interests.”
There are effective tools to help voters track the source of money provided to political campaigns. Citizens can do this in three easy steps online.
1. Obtain the list of top Michigan lobbyists by visiting the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) Web site at www.mcfn.org. The MCFN conducts research on campaign contributions and their relationship to election outcomes and issues of public policy.
2. Go to the Web site, www.followthemoney.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan Web site that tracks the influence of money on state-level elections and public policy. By entering your zip code, a complete summary of special interest contributions to the campaigns of your local representatives will be provided.
3. Visit www.votesmart.org, a nonprofit, volunteer Web site that tracks the voting records of state legislators throughout the country. By entering your state and locale, the voting record of district representatives is displayed. (This public information is also listed by the Michigan Legislature at www.legislature.mi.gov.)
Voters may see a correlation between the lobby money spent by an organization, how much they've contributed to a legislator's campaign, and how that lawmaker votes on legislation.
“If a legislator repeatedly votes in favor of power companies, is it correlated to the campaign financing that he or she receives from those power companies?,” asks Robinson. “One can only surmise that it does, and that's why my campaign will decline lobby money.”
Running without lobby money is unprecedented for a state level legislative race in Eaton County. Candidates like Robinson who refuse special interest contributions do so by choice. This makes funding a campaign extremely difficult.
“But it's not impossible,” says Robinson. “There are Michigan legislators who have done it and it enables them to vote on their constituents' behalf without a conflict of interest. Imagine the signal that sends to special interest groups.”
Bob Robinson is a citizen candidate for the office of State Representative of Eaton County, District 71 who is not seeking lobby money for his campaign. He is an internationally accredited public relations professional and author of the Random House book, “Freelancing:
Using the Internet to Find a Job”, which chronicled the history of organized employment in the United States. Bob is involved in his community and lives in Vermontville, Michigan. For information, go to www.district71.com or his Facebook page at http://facebook.dj/district71.
See Who's Contributing to a Candidate's Campaign
It's a bit of a process to find out who is contributing to a candidate's campaign but it is public information by law. You can also go to the Michigan.gov Web site to see who is contributing to a candidate's election campaign. Follow the steps below.
1) Go to www.michigan.gov/sos. (Web site for the Secretary of State)
2) Click on the "Elections in Michigan" link on the left navigation bar.
3) Click on the "Campaign Finance Searchable Database" link.
4) Click on the "Search by Candidate Committee" link.
5) Enter the candidate's name in the box indicated and select the office sought.
6) Submit the search.
7) Select the candidate's committee when the search is completed.
8) Click on the finance document you would like to inspect.
You can view the finance documents either on screen or in PDF format.
Information on candidate campaign filings is also available at other Web sites including www.followthemoney.org.m and www.votesmart.org.
This article was printed in the March 28, 2010 - April 10, 2010