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.

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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.