From forcing political donors out of the shadows to making it easier for Michiganders to see what their government is doing, state Rep. Darrin Camilleri thinks information is key.
BROWNSTOWN, Mich.—When the people of Brownstown elected state Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown) to the Legislature in 2017, he had no idea he would be present for dramatic and often strange anti-democracy efforts. He was a high school teacher, coming to Lansing to get more resources for the kids in his classroom.
But three years into his time in Lansing, as he put it, the circus came to town.
“I was in the oversight committee hearing in December when Rudy Guliani came to our committee for the clown show that was their attempts to foment the big lie and put their attempts out there to discredit our election and discredit our vote,” Camilleri told The ‘Gander. “I pushed back every step that I could to protect our elections and defend our democracy. And we were able to tell the truth about what happened.”
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The truth about what happened is that the numerous lawsuits arguing widespread election fraud have failed in court due to a lack of evidence.
Like others in the Legislature, Camilleri has seen how the “big lie” evolved from challenges to the 2020 election result to a modern effort to restrict the rights of Michigan voters. But he sees an opportunity to do more than fight Republican restrictions on voting rights, by tackling the problems posed by money in politics at the federal level diminishing the voice of voters and amplifying the influence of corporations.
Protecting Michigan’s Elections
Camilleri is a proponent of the national For the People Act, known as HR1, which would address a lot of the voter suppression efforts Lansing Republicans are currently considering, as well as the issues inherent in campaign finance.
“At the national level, we need HR1 to pass, because we need to ensure that democracy is secure, that voting rights cannot be diminished at the state level, and that we enhance the ways we support our elections and give people access to the ballot box,” he said.
The For the People Act establishes 6-to-1 matching for small-dollar donations, strengthens prohibitions on candidates coordinating with massive political interest groups, and creates new rules for political advertisements online that would bring online advertising in line with broadcast ads and address the danger posed by computer-generated falsified content called deepfakes.
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“We cannot see the influence of corporations take over the influence of people,” Camilleri said. “If we clean up our campaign finance laws, we then make it so that elections are about our ideas, not about who has the most money.”
Camilleri is interested in making similar reforms to Michigan’s campaign finance laws, and is working on legislation to do just that.
The For the People Act would also require donors who contributed more than $10,000 toward a political group’s campaign efforts to have their identities disclosed. That’s a win for a more transparent government, which is also a priority of Camilleri’s.
Sunlight Is the Best Disinfectant
Not only does Camilleri want to bring transparency to donors and campaign finance, he wants to make Michigan’s elected officials more accountable to their constituents. Transparency is a solution to this problem, he says.
“We need to expand FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act, to ensure that every Michigander has access to the Legislature and the Governor’s office and the public work that happens in both of those branches of government,.” he said.
Michigan is one of the only states with an exemption for the Legislature and Governor when it comes to FOIA requests, explained Camilleri. A ballot drive is seeking to end that exemption during the 2022 election, which would put the situation to voters if the drive gathers enough signatures.
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Bringing transparency both to elections and governance, Camilleri said, will improve the public’s trust and confidence in the government it elects. Right now, the lack of transparency isn’t doing much to bolster public confidence, he said.
“We need to change that and make it so our government is more transparent,” he said. “And we need to do more to close some loopholes when it comes to lobbying reform here in our state and create a system that puts regular people first and gives us that faith and that trust in our government again.”