Old money, new direction: Who will Michigan’s big donors back, After Jeb?

LANSING — Michigan loves Jeb Bush.

Until recently, the former Florida governor was the top fundraiser of all presidential candidates in the state, regardless of political party, according to campaign finance records released by the Federal Election Commission.

But Bush, trailing in early primaries, suspended his campaign more than a week ago after results were tallied in South Carolina, despite raising and spending more than $100 million in his bid to be third in his family to win the White House (In January, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton surpassed him as Michigan’s overall fundraising leader.)

Which raises the question: Who will Bush’s biggest Michigan supporters — with names like DeVos, Meijer, Schuette and Schostak — back now?

“With him getting out, it just kind of shows that there are a lot of different people who are important players in GOP politics up for grabs,” said Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

“It’s almost like they’re trying to put their chips on different people,” said Mauger, adding that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the last of the so-called establishment candidates, could be likely contenders.

Some backers, indeed, have donated to several candidates in hopes that one will emerge as the candidate in a large Republican primary.

The billionaire DeVos family of West Michigan, long influential in Republican politics, has chosen to endorse Rubio now that the field has narrowed and Bush has left the race.

“We believe that supporting candidates is something we should all be doing,” Dick DeVos told Crain’s and Bridge Magazine. “What we’re looking at is: Who do we think is going to be the best leader for all of America? We think Marco Rubio is that leader.”

DeVos said he and his wife, Betsy, have known Rubio since he was in the Florida House of Representatives. They worked with him primarily on education issues, including expanding school choice.

He said his family contributed to several candidates early in the race before they were ready to endorse one, adding that “we were not prepared to make a decision at that early stage.”

Other top GOP donors already have invested a lot of money in Bush, but now that he has suspended his campaign they “may be gun shy,” said Susan Demas, editor and publisher of Lansing-based political newsletter Inside Michigan Politics.

“The instinct right now is for a lot of the Bush supporters and donors to head over to Rubio’s side, but there are also a lot of people who are staying on the sidelines because his position doesn’t look particularly strong,” Demas said.

She is predicting Donald Trump and Clinton victories in Michigan, based on recent Inside Michigan Politics polling that suggests both candidates are carrying double-digit percentage-point leads.

Targeting super PACs

Federal contribution limits cap individual donations to candidate committees at $2,700 per election.

Contributions to independent expenditure political committees, often called super PACs, are unlimited.

A recent analysis of FEC campaign finance records by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network shows Michigan donors gave roughly $638,500 to candidate committees, while just five donors gave $620,500 to super PACs supporting candidates.

The latter suggests where some such donors are placing their support post-Bush: In January, Amway Corp. co-founder Richard DeVos (Dick DeVos’ father) gave $250,000 each to super PACs supporting Bush and Rubio, Mauger’s analysis shows.

Dan Gilbert, chairman of Detroit-based mortgage lender Quicken Loans, Inc., and real estate magnate, gave $100,000 to a super PAC backing Kasich — following previous contributions topping $1 million to a super PAC supporting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who also has quit the campaign.

A spokeswoman for Gilbert said he does not comment on his political contributions.

“What we’re seeing is that a few large donors are being able to basically give the same amount of money as the hundreds of Michigan individuals who are giving to the candidate committees, who face contribution limits,” Mauger said.

“The spending is a lot more clouded.”

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Sun, 02/28/2016 - 10:08am
Interesting to see the DeVos family hedging their bets with donations to Rubio, Bush, Walker, and Kasich. I guess if you bet the field against Trump, you are hoping that one of your horses can win a race, somewhere.
Mon, 02/29/2016 - 8:26am
Politicians, gotta love 'em. The best that money can buy. Meanwhile, back in the real world where millions of normal people live with concerns like lead in our pipes, crumbling roads, excessive medical costs, and just how long will our jobs go on, life just goes on.
Tue, 03/01/2016 - 10:15am
So well said!
Mon, 02/29/2016 - 11:52am
The US has more prisoners than any other, and Florida based prison company GEO Group makes $1.6 billion a year locking people up. GEO Group donates to Rubio's campaign for President. The anti-cannabis Rubio would be good for their profits. GEO Group recently completed a restructuring that allowed them to become a real estate investment trust (REIT). REITs are required to pay 90% of their taxable income to shareholders. A number of private prison companies like GEO Group have been inserting occupancy guarantee provisions into prison privatization contracts and requiring states to maintain high occupancy rates within their privately owned prisons. GEO's current occupancy rate is 96% Is this the kind of manipulation of justice Michigan wants? We are heading in that direction as we see here: http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2015/10/prosecutors_cri...Who's going in to prison to make money for the shareholders? If Rubio and his donors have it their way it will be cannabis & hemp users who are violating Federal and International laws which forbid its use . A better business model for Michigan, would be to re legalize cannabis and hemp here in this agricultural state of ours. The best part is these local industries, unlike the "prison for profits" industries, cannabis & hemp would accomplish "good things" like food, fuel, medicine, hempcrete, livestock feed...
Phil L.
Mon, 02/29/2016 - 1:13pm
I am so pleased to read about so much money wealthy people have wasted on nominees who have dropped out. Comparatively though, it's akin to my leaving an extra $5 on the table in addition to a tip. It won't hurt 'em.
Mon, 02/29/2016 - 9:12pm
Gee, I guess my 50 dollar campaign contribution is not going to buy me access for my issues of water quality and gerrymandering. I guess I should just give it to a charity that cleans up after the big spenders.
Sun, 03/06/2016 - 4:33pm
The role of money in politics, contrary to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, is vastly overrated. On the Media on NPR this morning cited a study by economist Steven Leavitt that money has limited impact on political campaigns. The current Republican primary campaign is evidence of that. In any case, there isn't anything wrong with a wealthy individual supporting a candidate whose policies he supports. The only difficulty comes in when there is a change of conviction on the part of a candidate as a result of a large donation. Does Mr. Mauger wish to offer examples of such changes of convictions?
Tue, 01/03/2017 - 3:11pm

DRAFT ROGER PENSKE FOR USSENATE (MICHIGAN)Roger Penske is well known across Michigan (in fact, the Nation) and therefore starts with the important Name recognition that some Political Campaigns only dream of achieving. Roger Penske fits the "anti-Politician sentiment" many clamor for, having been betrayed by duplicitous Politicians. Penske would have the all important Seed Money to begin a Statewide Campaign and connections to additional Donors for the much needed Campaign Cash required to run a successful Statewide Campaign. Roger has ties to Wayne County having single-handedly saved the Grand Prix of Detroit, making him well liked and respected in Wayne County (an all important County to court for a successful USSenate Campaign). Roger obviously has the successful Businessman angle, that helped both Rick Snyder to the Governorship of Michigan and Donald Trump to turn Michigan RED for POTUS for the first time since 1988. Where he stands on the Issues, will (of course) be an "issue" and open question, but Roger Penske should be considered high on the list of potential Candidates for the Republican Party in order to defeat Debbie Stabenow in #MidTerms2018.see the Page: http://facebook.com/DraftRogerPenske see too: http://facebook.com/groups/thxalotdebbie ("Thanks Alot Debbie, NOT" - Replace Stabenow 2018 Group)