Egan explained to readers that a state senator in Michigan could run for another state office and shift money from one campaign committee to the other—but they are supposed to set up a new committee as soon as they know what office they will seek. Rich Robinson suggested to Egan that politicians delay while using their existing committees because they don’t want to make their political plans public. If Kahn, for example, shifted money from one campaign fund to another, Egan reported, “donors who gave in 2011 would have to count those donations against what they could give him for any new office” (here would have been a good place for Egan to tell readers what donation limits are—for individuals, it’s $1000 to a state Senate candidate in an election cycle and $500 to a State representative). What the money cannot do is shift from a state campaign fund to a federal one. (Sen. Kahn says he is considering a challenge to U.S. Sen. Carl Levin in 2014.)


In a unique Michigan quirk, the state’s campaign finance law predates the term limit law, and therefore “does not clearly allow for fundraising by lawmakers who can’t be re-elected,” according to Egan. A 1978 ruling by the Secretary of State sets precedent for a “fundraising event” to exclude anything that does not raise proceeds to influence elections, but there remains no explicit fundraising prohibition. In addition to the hazy legal ground, checks on state politicians are inadequate because the Bureau of Elections is understaffed and unable to scrutinize the thousands of campaign finance reports that it receives, Robinson said (and the director of the state’s Bureau of Elections didn’t dispute). Given this, the spotlight from the Detroit Free Press shines all the brighter.

Anna Clark is CJR's correspondent for Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. A 2011 Fulbright fellow, Clark has written for The Guardian, Grantland, and Salon; blogs at Isak; and can be found on Twitter @annaleighclark. She lives in Detroit.