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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.”

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