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What's wrong with campaign finance? What can fix it?

Margaret Von Steinen
Western Michigan University We Talk
Jason Cabel Roe (left) Rodericka Applewhaite (center) Gordon Evans (right)

How did the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision change how campaigns are financed and conducted? How could the current system be improved?

Those were some the issues discussed at the latest Free Speech Café, presented by Western Michigan University’s We Talk initiative.

Republican strategist Jason Cabel Roe, a Western Michigan University graduate, and Michigan Democratic Party Communications Advisor Rodericka Applewhaite discussed campaign finance. WMUK’s Content Director Gordon Evans was moderator.

You can find a link to the interview recorded at the Public Media Network here.

Roe says since the Citizens United decision and the influx of outside money, candidates have the smallest voice in their own campaigns. Roe says outside voices drive the message of those campaigns.

“I also think it plays a role in how they govern when they get in office,” Roe said.

Reporting around the scandal involving former state House Speaker Lee Chatfield has shown he traveled extensively at great cost. Current rules make it hard to know who paid for that travel, and whether those picking up the tab had legislation pending in the House. Applewhaite says Chatfield's actions were “cartoonishly corrupt,”. and they show why reform is necessary. Applewhaite added that the reaction among lawmakers shows reform is possible.

Roe says Michigan has some of the worst transparency laws in the nation. “I think it would be very difficult for elected officials to stand in the way of meaningful reforms would create more transparency,” he said.

Asked for ideas to improve campaign finance regulations in Michigan, both Roe and Applewhaite favor requiring campaigns to file finance reports more often. They also both say personal financial disclosures would indicate potential conflicts of interest. Applewhaite would like to eliminate what she calls “the revolving door” between the Legislature and lobbying. Roe says he would raise the limits on donations to individual campaigns. He says that would give the campaigns more control over the message, as opposed to outside groups.