The GOP majority in Michigan wants to weaken the supervision of dark money and fraudulent charities before the new Democratic attorney general is seated.
Last week, the Michigan GOP used the lame-duck session to introduce the "Personal Privacy Protection Act." The name sounds benign enough, but what it really does is allow fraudulent charities to thrive and dark money to flow unmonitored. And it's already passed the Michigan Senate.
In Michigan, the Attorney General's Office has the duty to oversee the 8,000+ charities that operate in Michigan and solicit donations. The office also has the authority to shut down fraudulent charities, and the current attorney general, Bill Schuette, has done so on some occasions.
However, something about the election of a Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel apparently has the GOP majority spooked, because they're making moves to decrease what Nessel can do.
One of the critical ways in which the attorney general can investigate potentially fraudulent charities is by being able to access the names of charity members and donors. The attorney general may also inspect the books of charities doing business in Michigan.
But the new Senate bill would make all of that information presumptively private — and much harder to get. It could only be disclosed under a warrant or a subpoena, and the attorney general would have to demonstrate a "compelling need" as to why they needed the info. In short, the bill will make it much harder to provide meaningful oversight.
The bill also stops both the attorney general and the secretary of state's office from making 501(c)(4) nonprofits disclose the identities of any donors, members, or supporters.
This sort of bill has a lot of support with conservatives. When California imposed a law requiring disclosure of certain donor information to register in the state, Americans for Prosperity, an organization run by the Koch brothers, opposed it. In that litigation, outgoing GOP attorney general Bill Schuette filed a brief backing AFP's insistence it shouldn't have to disclose.
There's no question this bill would make it much harder to track the dark money that funds attack ads. It would also make it tougher for the attorney general to investigate any type of charity fully.
At a time when the entire family of the president of the United States is being sued for their involvement in a clearly fraudulent charity, it should really come as no surprise that the GOP in Michigan wants to protect bad actors.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.