Michigan Bar Seeks to Eliminate "Dark Money" in Judicial Elections

September 23, 2013

The State Bar of Michigan, which represents more than 43,000 attorneys and judges, has asked the secretary of state to require disclosure of funders of "issue ads" in state elections. Specifically, the bar is seeking an interpretive ruling that such ads should be treated as advocacy rather than electioneering and thus as official campaign spending. Such a ruling would require the disclosure of donors who are currently anonymous. As Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network has documented, so-called dark money is especially prevalent in judicial elections. Michigan's 2012 supreme court elections saw $18 million in independent expenditures, and more than $13 million of this was for TV ads and came from entities who were not required to disclose their spending. In a single trial court race in 2012, $2 million of the $2.7 million spent was dark money. The secretary of state is required to respond to the bar's request for a ruling within 60 days.