Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson called Thursday for a bipartisan committee to look at ways to prevent well-financed special interests from buying their way onto the Michigan ballot and amending the state's constitution.
Johnson said at a news conference that in examining such a change, protecting the rights of Michigan citizens to amend their constitution through voter initiatives must be paramount.
She deflected a question on how officials could distinguish ballot proposals backed by special interests from those backed by citizens, particularly in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that roughly equates money spent advocating election issues with freedom of speech.
"If you have a lot of money, you can (get) signatures and you can put on a lot of commercials," said Johnson, a Republican. "We just need to look at the system and make sure it's working as well as it can, but we'll protect that First Amendment right."
Her comments followed record spending of at least $150 million on six ballot proposals in the Nov. 6 election. Five constitutional amendments on issues ranging from enshrining collective-bargaining rights, to increasing the state's renewable energy standard, to requiring a statewide vote on a new bridge to Canada, were all voted down.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder campaigned against all of the constitutional amendments and warned of an apparent move in Michigan toward "California-style" democracy, featuring numerous voter initiatives.
Johnson had no specific recommendations on who should appoint the committee.
State elections director Chris Thomas said any committee appointed could build on the work of groups that examined the issue in 2007 and 2009.
There has been talk in Lansing of legislation that would ban the use of paid signature collectors for ballot initiatives. Johnson did not say whether she would support such a bill.
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