Campaign donors love a winner, dump Michigan GOP for Democrats after election
- Campaign donations to GOP legislators dry up following November loss
- Corporate PACs may be giving to newly-in-power Democrats to be heard, political consultants say
- One Republican strategist: Current lack of cash for GOP not a sign of weak fundraising
LANSING — Campaign donations to legislative Republicans started to dry up almost immediately after Democrats won control of the state Legislature on Nov. 8, campaign finance records show.
Between Nov. 9 and Dec. 31, Michigan’s top legislative Democrats and Democratic caucus funds received more than $258,000 from almost 290 donors, including $244,000 from corporate PACs and other political committees, according to a Bridge Michigan analysis of state campaign finance reports released Jan. 31.
Their GOP counterparts received just shy of $93,000 from 13 donors, including $70,000 from four current and former legislators’ campaign accounts.
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The fundraising gap follows a historic win by Democrats, who now control the governor’s office and the state Legislature for the first time since 1984. Michigan’s secretary of state and attorney general are both Democrats, and the party has a one-seat advantage on the state Supreme Court.
The change in leadership is likely why money is flowing toward Democrats, as special interest groups look for an audience with the new leaders, said political consultants and a political science expert.
Big corporations — some of which have traditionally given to both Republicans and Democrats — have each contributed tens of thousands to Democratic campaigns following the election.
Over the past month, Democrats have quickly introduced and advanced legislation that reflects their long-touted priorities, such as expanding the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, repealing the pension tax and elevating Michigan’s presidential primary dates, among others.
“Everyone’s kind of in limbo but still have to operate with who the king is at the moment,” Republican strategist Jason Roe told Bridge Michigan.
“And right now, the Democrats are the king.”
The five biggest corporate donors to Democrats from Nov. 9 to Dec. 31 were: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and its PAC (nearly $32,000); DTE Energy and its PAC ($20,000); Ford Motor Co. and its PAC ($15,000), $11,500 from the political arm of Rock Holdings mortgage lending service; and nearly $11,000 from grocery chain Meijer.
All are reliable donors to both parties: DTE or its lobbyists, for instance, has contributed to 138 of the 148 state lawmakers who were in office last year, according to a tally by the environmental think tank Energy and Policy Institute.
All the corporate donors have significant interest in state policy. DTE Energy, for example, has opposed renewable energy reforms and fought bills that would have allowed investigations into utility companies for power outages.
The latest numbers follow a season of money troubles for Republicans, as Democrats significantly outraised and outspent their opponents in the November election.
Whitmer, for example, raised more than $37 million throughout the election cycle, which was more than four times the $9 million Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon received.
By late August, Democrats spent more heavily than usual in competitive legislative races and outpaced their Republican opponents in some areas. But throughout the election cycle, legislative Democratic candidates raised roughly the same as their Republican opponents, each raising a total of $26.8 million, MLive reported.
While Democrats out-raised Republicans after the election, both parties had roughly the same amount of cash in their caucus funds. Between the Senate and House, Democratic caucus funds had $231,000 on hand while Republicans had $213,000.
Democrats’ caucus funds were also $1.3 million in debt while their Republican counterparts owed $700,000.
Flocking toward power
Money has a way of gravitating to power.
When Republicans were still controlling the Legislature in 2018, GOP legislative leaders and caucuses raised more than Democrats during the same filing period following the November election, a Bridge analysis shows.
In 2018, Republican legislative caucus funds and campaigns and leadership PACs associated with incoming House Speaker Lee Chatfield and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey raised a total of $78,000, nearly double the $38,000 for Democrats.
“You are going to have a lot of people who want to be able to influence the new majority and also signal their allegiance to the new majority,” said Matt Grossmann, political science professor at Michigan State University.
Donations from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan surprised Jonathan Kinloch, chair of the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party and a Wayne County commissioner from Detroit.
“Are you serious?” Kinloch asked Bridge on Tuesday, noting the progressive group Defend Black Voters Coalition protested the company last year for backing Republican lawmakers who supported legislation to tighten up voting rules.
“It absolutely had everything to do with Democrats winning,” Kinloch said of the donations.
A spokesperson for the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan PAC could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.
Kinloch said he is worried that corporations are donating money to shape policy debates on issues such as the state’s Right-to-Work law, which was established in 2012 to allow workers to opt out of paying union dues but still receive the same benefits as union members do. Democrats have pledged to repeal the law.
Unions, which are also big donors to the Democrats, have favored the repeal while prominent business leaders in Michigan have spoken against the plan.
“That’s why everyone is watching how quickly they move Right-to-Work (legislation),” Kinloch said.
Repealing the state’s Right-to-Work law was absent from Whitmer’s State of the State Address last month, Roe noted, which could suggest Democrats are not yet ready to take up a “politically volatile issue” and risk crossing business groups.
Corporate PAC donations to newly-in-power Democrats are to “make sure they can at least get into the office and plead their case,” Roe said.
“You are trying to make sure you are not completely ignored.”
Pendulum still swings
In contrast to the Democrats’ fundraising, just over $22,000 of the $93,000 Republican leaders and caucus funds raised between Nov. 9 and Dec. 31 came from corporate PACs, records show.
The biggest donation from corporate PACs came from Michigan Radiology PAC, an advocate for policies benefiting radiologists and radiation oncologists. It gave $5,000 each to the leadership PACs of all four legislative leaders.
The PAC is the political arm of Michigan Radiological Society. The organization has opposed state legislation to allow non-physician practitioners and chiropractors to interpret diagnostic images, and lost a court fight in 2018 when it challenged the corporate status of an imaging center owned by a non-physician.
Almost half of that $93,000 came from one senator’s candidate committee. Sen. John Damoose, R-Harbor Springs, transferred $41,975 — the maximum amount of caucus committee contributions allowed last year — to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee in November.
The lack of outside support for Republicans shows “disappointment” among GOP voters at the party’s loss in Lansing, and special interest groups feel “less important to negotiate” with the minority party, Grossmann said.
But it is common for fundraising to slow down near the end of an election year, Roe said, contending that fundraising may pick back up for Republicans in 2024.
“I think the Republican fundraising will start to spike when you get deeper into 2024 and donors have a better sense of the direction of the political environment,” he said. “Is it worth crossing Democrats and starting to lay the foundation for Republicans taking over again? Or do Democrats have the wind at their backs?”
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