A Michigan-based political action committee thinks they have it in the bag with their timely $20K contribution to state lawmakers. It was recently disclosed that Meijer Inc. PAC greased the palms of Republican Senators on the same day the Commerce Committee was about to take-up the question of preventing local governments from banning the use of plastic shopping bags.
The Michigan Campaign Finance Network reports that Meijer dollars, combined with other significant corporate PAC money, vastly outspent environmental interests on the cusp of the Senate committee’s discussion on the topic of plastic bags last April. The committee is chaired by Sen. Wayne Schmidt – (Grand Traverse County), who has two profitable Meijer stores in his Northern Michigan district. He was also one of the sponsors of the legislation, which went on to earn Senate approval, and is awaiting consideration in the House.
The bill in question, SB 853, would prohibit municipalities from banning retailers’ use of plastic bags — or as listed in the legislation, “auxiliary containers.” Meijer is on record as supporting the legislation, and we can surely expect a handsome contribution to GOP Representatives as they take up the bill in the House Committee on Commerce and Trade.
Meijer isn’t the only party to give money to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee — the Michigan Retailers Association and the Associated Food and Petroleum Dealers gave a combined $3,500, also on the day of the committee hearing.
As Sen. Schmidt is well aware, Grand Traverse County is not unfamiliar with the bought-and-paid-for influence of the Grand Rapids-based retailer within his community. A decade ago, the mega-store attempted to sway, with thousands-upon-thousands of unreported dollars, a number of elections within the county. Their efforts to create favorable marketing conditions were bolstered by gross violations of the law — a possible felony at the time, until the Citizens United ruling rendered their actions as mere misdemeanors. After years of litigation, the Supreme Court ruling dashed all hope of meaningful prosecution.
It is troubling that Sen. Schmidt would accept a bald-faced quid pro quo from a corporate entity that has a history of disruption within his jurisdiction. Also found in Schmidt’s district is a family-owned chain of stores, Tom’s Food Markets, who offer a five-cent discount to shoppers per canvas bag used — from any store, including Meijer. The local chain has demonstrated a commitment to elimenating disposables. When Meijer opened their second mega-store in the county, they launched a campaign to exchange other retailer’s green bags, namely Tom’s bags, for their blue bag — a pitch which fell flat among local consumers for obvious reasons.
Schmidt is clearly nowhere on supporting local business.
There are larger issues at stake though. First, the obvious threat to the principle of home rule — something Republicans are all for, except for when they’re not. Also, the environmental concerns that prompt communities to enact ordinances banning “auxiliary containers”, such as plastic bags, are very real.
The impetus behind this legislation appears to be ordinances like the one recently passed in Washtenaw County which imposes a ten-cent fee for each disposable bag, paper or plastic, used instead of a reusable container. The Michigan county is not alone in their effort to curb the use of disposable bags — they keep good company with communities like Chicago, Seattle, Boulder, New York, Portland, and Washington, D.C., and the whole state of California, among others. Since 2015, 73 pieces of legislation have been proposed in state houses to regulate disposable bags, with 71 of those bills designed to decrease the use of single-use bags. Many states have already enacted laws to regulate bags. As per usual, Michigan falls outside of the norm.
The National Conference of State Legislatures describes the importance of this kind of legislation:
“Regulating bags can mitigate harmful impacts to oceans, rivers, lakes, forests and the wildlife that inhabit them. Reducing bag use can also relieve pressure on landfills and waste management.”
Joining Michigan in an effort to ban the bans on disposables are six states that, either have legislation pending, or have already enacted a ban on bans. They are Arizona, Missouri, Idaho, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Utah — predominately red states, similarly plagued by retro-grade leadership.
On the side of the environment, California was the first state to take a stand against disposable bags with their 2014 law. They took action after 127 municipalities had already put the kibosh on single-use bags. The primary reason cited was the need to protect some of the state’s greatest assets — its beaches, rivers, and ocean fronts. Nathan Weaver of Environment California, explained the need to protect the state’s waterways:
“From the thousands of sea turtles that are now safer from plastic bags to the thousands of volunteers who remove these bags from our beaches and rivers, this bill means a cleaner ocean for everyone… Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our ocean for hundreds of years.”
It is a shame that Michigan lawmakers show so little regard for its greatest treasure.
Related: Michigan’s bottle return law is 97 percent effective in encouraging recycling, compared to 30 percent nationally, where these laws are less common.