Coordinated Anti-Term Limits Attack Revealed by Campaign Finance Disclosures

Posted In: Politics, State, Opinion, News, Investigative Reporting, State,   From Issue 931   By: Greg Schmid

16th June, 2022     0

 “‘Bipartisan’ usually means that a larger-than-usual deception is being carried out.” – George Carlin

The political class insiders from both parties advanced a full court press this past year in a concerted effort to undermine term limits on incumbents in the legislature. It started last year with a rehash of a 25-year-old anti-term limits lawsuit previously decided by the courts, with term limited incumbents suing for a constitutional right to be elected indefinitely, even though the people had voted by landslide to impose term limits on legislators in 1992. The case was summarily dismissed again.

Next came an announcement in February of a petition drive that falsely claimed to “reduce” term limits (In fact it doubled the eligibility for the house of representatives from 6 years to 12 years and it would allow currently term limited legislators to extend their tenure). The campaign started with deceptions as to the effect of the initiative and even name of the Anti-Term limits Ballot Question Committee chose to call itself, “Voters for Transparency and Term Limits.”  The group was forced to admit that the measure did some very sneaky things to subvert term limits. They should have been named “Term Limits for Thee But Not For Me.”

First, it proposed two unrelated amendments to the Michigan constitution in one petition. These are two separate issues being bundled together by a practice derisively called logrolling, a well-known cynical ploy designed to make the worse appear the better by distracting voters with one hand and deceiving them with the other.

This was done in an obvious attempt to force voters into a Hobson’s choice, an unnecessary compromise, on Term Limits and increase the chances unwitting voters will be attracted by the sound of a trumped up transparency measure involving Officeholder Disclosures badly enough to vote yes on a measure with the true intention only of abrogating term limits on legislators only - even though 78% of Michigan voters just polled like our current system of separate limits of 3 terms in the house and 2 terms in the senate.

The formula of deception and bundling was tried in California and Arkansas, and it worked there because uniformed voters entered the voting booth with only a 100-word summary that buried the message that the measure was anti-term limits. This is a clever trick, as the sponsors know well that people love term limits. One of the anti-term limits sponsors, AFL-CIO Mark Gaffney, even announced publicly that, “It would be crazy to be against term limits.”

Next, the anti-term limits organization Voters for Transparency and Term Limits proposed a petition summary that went before the board of State Canvassers. Even though the proposal would let current incumbent lawmakers run for at least 6 more years, they proposed a petition summary saying the proposal would “reduce to a combined 12 years allowed service in Michigan house of representatives or senate, or both…”    In reality, the word “reduce” is an inaccurate characterization of the proposal to repeal and replace current separate term limits for house and senate with a combined limit that allows incumbents to double their eligibility for the house to 12 years and add a term for senators.

 On March 23, 2022 the Board of State Canvassers rejected that misleading ballot question statement proposed by the proponents and instead adopted its own summary with a statement that the proposal would replace current term limits for state representatives and state senators with a 12-year total limit in any combination between the house and the senate, with the exception that someone elected to the senate in 2022 can be elected the number of times allowed when that person became a candidate.”

Even this improved version of the summary remained problematic because it presented the disguised anti-term limits proposal near the end of the 100-word summary, after the detailed recitation of the fake self-styled “transparency measure” which was slipped in as a loss leader - intentionally in hopes voters would not read that far into the ballot summary and perhaps not even realize that voting yes would functionally end term limits in Michigan.

During these early months of 2022 the sponsors of the anti-term limits group tried to raise funds by presenting to lobbyist groups, Public Utilities, Unions, and big business government contractors. All the special interests that rely on lobbying were courted, and the entire government establishment was lined up against term limits.

They promised a grass roots citizen petition drive to get the 425,000 signatures it takes to get on the ballot, but they only failed to collect significant signatures, and up till 3 months before the deadline they only pretended they were trying to get the signatures, which would have cost upwards of 10 million dollars to pay for with private money.

The sponsors were (are) an unholy trinity of big government, big labor, and big business.

Mark Gaffney is the treasurer, and he was CEO at AFL-CIO. Mike Duggan is the famous strong-man mayor of Detroit, who has the clout to pick winners and losers in big public contracts. The Chamber of Commerce was on the team, and former house speaker Jase Bolger was the spokesperson. Bolger is considered the gatekeeper to the DeVos / Amway political money.

The group submitted its first limited campaign finance report that showed the seed money they got by donor. The report covered just a month or so, and it showed Miami Dolphins team owner Stephen Ross was the first donor, followed by DTE Energy, at $75,000 each. Some unions kicked in $7500 and $5,000, and some government contractors made contributions.

All these groups make their living off working the public sector to the advantage of their businesses through lobbying and currying favor with government power brokers.

Follow the money and consider the source.

Despite the early seed money, it appeared the sponsors’ petition drive was in danger of collapsing; they had no time left and not enough money to buy signatures. People had no way to know for sure, but it was suspected that the whole petition drive had been a clever ruse to justify and provide political cover for a legislative referral of the bundled proposal, and that the sponsors and caucus leaders were quietly coordinating to line up votes to a joint resolution which was almost exactly the same as the petition.

Then on May 9 the Chamber of Commerce pulled an ace from its sleeve and made a slick public plea in a well-timed press release which implored the legislature to sidestep the citizen petition process and use the legislatures prerogative to refer the proposal to the November 2022 ballot (this is an alternative method of constitutional amendment on a 2/3 vote of the legislature).

Then it leaked that there was a caucus call that very day, and the agreement was to go forward with a Joint resolution HJR-R without disclosing it or providing any notice of a vote that was to take place at 10 am the next morning May 10.

MIRS political news found out about it at 10 PM that night, but by the time anyone could read it the vote was taken without any debate or any opportunity for public input. Government by surprise – and immediately after the vote they adjourned for the week and fled the capital to avoid the press.

The resolution was not even printed till the day after it passed, and it was hastily and sloppily altered overnight with a slight, almost unseen, alteration in the financial disclosure language for the petition. The proposal was reworded to exempt the members of the legislature from the financial disclosure rules, touted as exposing conflict of interest, to provide that, “The positions required to be disclosed under this subdivision do not include positions held in any religious, social, fraternal, or political entity, or positions that are solely of an honorary nature.”

That’s not a loophole; that’s an expressway for incumbents to avoid meaningful disclosures and keep their true affiliations under wraps. This points to the Machiavellian nature of this anti term limits scheme. Not only do they hide the true anti-term limits intent of the proposal by burying it in a financial disclose amendment that sounds good if you don’t read it, but they removed the meaningful part of the petition measure altogether for their own self-interest, so it won’t apply to them.

To add insult to injury, despite the facts that the law does not empower the legislature to set ballot summary language for its own referral of the proposal, and that the term limits portion of the proposal was identical to the already rejected reference to “reduce” in the summary proposed by the anti-term limits group “Voters for Transparency and Term Limits,” HJR-R improperly included ballot summary language saying the proposal would “reduce” it anyway!

Not only have the petition sponsors successfully convinced the state legislature to bypass the petition requirement for this proposal, against all decency and self-restraint, but it has also convinced them to try to usurp the power previously given to the Secretary of State and the Board of State Canvassers and set its own deceptive ballot summary, even in the face of MCL 168.32, which specifically provides that the “The director of elections, with the approval of the state board of canvassers, shall prepare a statement for designation on the ballot in not more than 100 words, exclusive of caption, of the purpose of any proposed amendment or question to be submitted to the electors as required under… section 1 or 2 of article XII of the state constitution of 1963.”

It is unprecedented that the legislature would dare presume to dictate the terms of a ballot summary – and they have no legal authority to do it. It is illegal since the law requires that job to be done by the Director of Elections with approval of the board of State Canvassers, and that it be impartial and non-prejudicial.

The last time the legislature referred a constitutional ballot question was the sales tax increase proposal in 2015, and the legislature did not attempt to force their own ballot summary in the joint resolution to place that measure on the ballot.

Term Limits Defense Fund Proposed Summary.

The proposed constitutional amendment would:

Abrogate current voter approved term limits for state representatives and state senators, currently limited to three 2 year-terms in the house and two 3 year-terms in the senate and replace them with a 12-year total limit in any combination between the house and the senate.

• State representatives term limits would be increased up to terms six 2-year terms in the house, and senate term limits would increase up to up to three 4-year terms, or in any combination between the house and senate, up to 12 years total.

• Current and term limited state legislators can run for additional terms up to the 12-year limit in either house, or both, less terms already served. 

• Someone elected to the senate in 2022 can be elected the number of times allowed when that person became a candidate.

• Require members of the legislature, the governor, the lieutenant governor, the secretary of state, and the attorney general to file annual public financial disclosure and transaction reports after 2023.

• Require the legislature to enact laws with disclosure rules at least as stringent as those required for members of congress.

Exempt from disclosure,”…positions held in any religious, social, fraternal, or political entity, or positions that are solely of an honorary nature.”

HJR R proposes what must be considered two separate ballot questions for voters to have a real choice on November 8, 2022.  The real target of the proposal, abrogating Term Limits on legislators only, was intentionally joined with a watered-down version of a transparency measure that applies to impose requirements for financial disclosures from the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and secretary of state in addition to the members of the Michigan house and senate on the subject matter of financial disclosures.

Both amendments were originally proposed by proponents of a single petition drive aimed at gutting term limits on lawmakers, and the combination is unlawful in that it increases the odds of passage of the measure since the one part of the measure (transparency) may cause voters not otherwise willing to vote yes on a measure to abrogate and replace term limits to make an unnecessary compromise at the polls.

There is no reason the people should not be given the opportunity to vote on each measure separately.   The members of the legislature have created a constitutional crises by attempting to change the Constitution to subvert term limits (on themselves only) after the voter-imposed term limits on governor, lieutenant governor, attorney  general, and secretary of state, in addition to the members of the Michigan house and senate in 1992.

As public servants, there is a very real moral hazard to this anti-term limits proposal, and especially in the way it was done in secret and without public knowledge. This is a blatant power grab by incumbents who want to stay in office indefinitely and dominate the erstwhile co-equal branches of government, empowered by the machinations of their private sector cronies and lobbyists.

Citizens must be made aware of the trick that is being played on them, but so far, the 4th estate, the news media, has let the story lie as they too make their livelihoods based on access to friendly lawmakers.

Influence peddling may seem bad now, but would get worse without term limits making power brokers out of long-term incumbents insulated by the trappings of office and safe from reelection challenges. This bundled anti-term limits proposal loses support instantly once people hear they are being played by the political class of one percenters who want to amass and keep power to help themselves to the taxpayer’s dime.

This coordinated conspiracy to steal term limits from the voters proves the old saying, “No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

Citizens are encouraged to rise up, spread the word early, and oppose the anti-term limits ballot question.

Hold candidates and all public officials accountable for their actions and contact termlimitsdefensefund.com to learn how you can stand with the people and defend term limits.  

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