Bob LaBrant, one of Michigan’s pre-eminent campaign finance gurus, has formed a new limited liability corporation (LLC) and launched a two-pronged assault on the Department of State’s Elections Division.
After 40 years and two retirements, LaBrant has situated himself at Doster Law Offices in Okemos, Michigan, with what he calls LaBrant Strategies LLC. LaBrant served 35 years at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, most of that time as Senior Vice President for Political Affairs and General Counsel. Then he served another five years as senior counsel at the Sterling Corporation in Lansing. Eric Doster is a longtime former legal counsel for the Michigan Republican Party, now in private practice after decades at the Lansing law firm Foster Swift Collins & Smith.
LaBrant already has requested a declaratory ruling or interpretive statement from the Department of State to force a clarification by that agency of whether its quasi-secret enforcement action against a non-profit corporation in 2014 will guide the Department’s posture toward other super Political Action Committee (PAC) contributors, and whether due to the bureau’s lack of notice such enforcement will be applied retroactively or prospectively. LaBrant also asks whether an amendment to fix a flawed section of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act (MCFA) can be applied retroactively. A draft ruling must be issued by the Department by Sept.8, and a final ruling Sept. 29.
LaBrant also filed a formal complaint on Wednesday (Aug. 24) against the Bureau of Elections for violating the MCFA by acting as a virtual consultant to the group pursuing a statewide petition drive to place a proposal on the 2018 statewide ballot to overhaul Congressional and legislative redistricting in Michigan. In filing his complaint, LaBrant has asked the bureau to recuse itself from responding because of an obvious conflict of interest, and instead refer his charge to the Dept. of Attorney General, which the bureau has done.
LaBrant observes that Department of State policy limits the agency to consulting on petitions only on technical formatting requirements and specifically prohibits the elections bureau’s staff from discussing the substance of the proposal on a petition.
But LaBrant charges that, in providing services, including staff legal review, to the committee known as “Voters Not Politicians (VNP),” the Department’s elections operation was guilty of “mission creep.” He claims that the bureau’s advice to the VNP petitioners as to what sections of the Constitution might be altered or abrogated by their proposal amounted to providing taxpayer-subsidized drafting and legal advice that is prohibited by the MCFA.
In his complaint involving the bureau’s failure to notify super PACs of their vulnerability to tens of thousands of dollars of campaign fines, LaBrant notes that the Legislature could vitiate such a prospective fiasco by amending the MCFA to provide contributors the same exemption from registration and reporting requirements that now exists for ballot question committees. Legislation to accomplish this has passed the state Senate numerous times during the past five years but has always stalled in the House.
LaBrant says his new outfit is not a law firm, nor will it lobby. The 71-year-old attorney says he intends to keep LaBrant Strategies a part-time enterprise, limiting his consulting to his two career-long passions — Political Action Committees and redistricting/reapportionment. In fact, LaBrant has authored a book, published in 2014 and entitled “PAC Man: A Memoir. A Personal Political History of the Campaign Finance, Redistricting, Ballot Question, Recall and Judicial Election Battles in Michigan, 1977-2014.” Last year, LaBrant reaped national publicity in the book “Ratf**ked,” by David Daley, who considers the Lansing lawyer one of the pre-eminent gurus in the entire country in his chosen fields of endeavor. Daley says “PAC MAN: A Memoir” should be “required reading.”
LaBrant’s address is 2145 Commons Parkway, Okemos; his telephone number is 517/881-5146; and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.