By Kathleen Gray

Less than six hours after it hit his desk, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation that will immediately allow candidates to raise unlimited amounts of cash for super PACs.

The bills -- SB 335-336 -- were already on a fast track in the Legislature, passing the Senate last week and flying through the House of Representatives on Tuesday after only one hour of committee debate. The legislation passed on party line votes with most of the Senate and House Republicans supporting the bills and all the Democrats opposing.

Supporters of the bills claim the measure simplify codifies the federal Citizens United decision into state law. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ban on unlimited contributions by corporations and unions into political campaigns, saying it was a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech. As a result, super PACs fueled with millions in donations have blossomed across the country to try to influence elections, and opponents argued that the legislation further blurs the line between candidates and the PACs that support them.

In signing the bills, Snyder said that after seven years, it was high time for the state to clarify the Supreme Court's campaign finance decision.

"There has been confusion about how this decision affects Michigan law," Snyder said in a statement. "Under the bills signed into law today, the Department of State finally has clear statutory authority to regulate independent expenditure committees, to mandate registration and reporting of contributions and expenditures, and to investigate and punish entities violating those regulations."

Under the bill, candidates can solicit unlimited contributions to independent expenditure committees or super PACs, which could then use the money to support the aspirations of the candidate.

Candidates could not coordinate with the super PAC, although a candidate committee and super PAC could use the same vendors.

Opponents said the new law blows the lid off campaign finance contribution limits. Candidates can solicit money for their own campaign committees, which carry contribution limits, but then go to those same donors and ask for unlimited funds for super PACs.

"Today should show clearly what Republicans are up to and who they truly care about: increasing the power of corporate money in our elections on behalf of rich folks trying to get richer," said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, a Lansing-based liberal advocacy group. "This is not about free speech -- this is about killing Michigan's democracy so that our elections go to the highest bidder."

The bills were given immediate effect by the Legislature.

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