On February 7, 2007, Acme Township held an election to determine whether any township trustees should be recalled. About a year later, the county prosecutor filed a petition in the Grand Traverse County Circuit Court, seeking authorization to issue investigative subpoenas pursuant to MCL 767A.2(1), which states, “A prosecuting attorney may petition the district court, the circuit court, or the recorder’s court in writing for authorization to issue 1 or more subpoenas to investigate the commission of a felony as provided in this chapter.” The petition stated that the county prosecutor was investigating an alleged violation of the MCFA, MCL 169.254, which prohibits corporations, their agents, and certain others from making election campaign contributions. The circuit court authorized the investigative subpoenas, finding “reasonable cause to believe a felony has been committed and those persons who are the subject of the petition may have knowledge regarding the felony.” Two subpoena recipients, respondents Meijer, Inc., and the Dickinson Wright employees, refused to produce information sought by the subpoenas. The prosecutor then filed a motion to compel their compliance.
Meijer and the Dickinson Wright employees moved to quash the subpoenas and to dismiss the proceeding for lack of jurisdiction. Their argument focused on MCL 169.215, which provides an enforcement mechanism for MCFA. The statute permits complaints to be filed with the Secretary of State, and states, at subsection (9), that “[t]he secretary of state shall investigate the allegations under the rules promulgated under this act . . . .” Meijer and the Dickinson Wright employees argued that, because the MCFA vests the Secretary of State with the exclusive jurisdiction to investigate and enforce campaign finance law violations, the county prosecutor had no legal basis for seeking the subpoenas and the circuit court did not have authority to issue or enforce the subpoenas. The circuit court agreed, and granted the motion to quash the subpoenas. The circuit judge concluded that the legislature “clearly intended to vest exclusive jurisdiction for enforcement of the MCFA in the Secretary of State and, upon her request, in the Attorney General.”
The prosecutor appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower court in a published opinion. The Court of Appeals held that MCFA did not contain any language expressly indicating that the legislature intended to divest county prosecutors of their general authority to prosecute felonies. Although the act authorizes the Secretary of State to “correct” and “prevent” violations, MCL 169.215(1), the Court of Appeals explained, “nothing in the MCFA supplies the secretary with the power to prosecute criminal infractions.” The panel added: “Had the Legislature intended that civil enforcement by the Secretary of State would preclude all related criminal prosecutions, it would not have incorporated in the MCFA an admonition that ‘[a] civil fine is in addition to, but not limited by, a criminal penalty prescribed by this act.’ MCL 169.215(14). Absent a clear and unambiguous expression that the Legislature intended to limit a prosecutor’s authority, we divine in MCL 169.215 no intent to divest the circuit court of jurisdiction to entertain the criminal prosecution of campaign finance law violators.” Meijer and the Dickinson Wright employees appeal.