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Proposal 3 abortion measure generates $57M in Michigan campaign donations

Proposal 3, the ballot measure that would legalize abortion rights in Michigan, has become the year’s most expense race in the state, the latest campaign reports show.
  • Groups for and against Prop 3 have raised a combined $57 million in the battle over abortion rights in Michigan 
  • GOP nominee for governor Tudor Dixon narrowed the fundraising gap against Democratic incumbent Gretchen Whitmer, but still lags in cash on hand
  • Matthew DePerno and Kristina Karamo, GOP nominees for attorney general and secretary of state, continue to trail their Democratic rivals in fundraising 

LANSING — The fight over Proposal 3, the abortion rights measure, is shaping up as the most expensive race in Michigan this year, generating $57 million in contributions from supporters and opponents, according to campaign finance reports released Friday.

That is more than the high-profile campaigns for governor, secretary of state and attorney general combined, the records show. Candidates in those races have raised a total of $56 million for the Nov. 8 election.

As of Oct. 23, Reproductive Freedom for All, the coalition championing Proposal 3, had raised a total of $40.2 million, more than double the $16.9 million from the anti-abortion coalition Citizens to Support MI Women and Children.

Campaign finance reports released Friday also showed GOP nominee for governor Tudor Dixon narrowing the fundraising gap between her and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this quarter. 

But Matthew DePerno and Kristina Karamo, GOP nominees for attorney general and secretary of state, still trail significantly behind Democratic incumbents Dana Nessel and Jocelyn Benson.

Here are some takeaways from Friday’s release of the latest campaign finance reports:

  • Whitmer raised $4.8 million and spent $14.7 million between Aug. 23 and Oct. 23. She had more than $4 million on hand.
  • Dixon raised $4.4 million and spent almost $2 million over the same period. She had $2 million in the bank by the end of the quarter.
  • Nessel raised $1.3 million and spent $3.5 million between Sept. 11 and Oct. 23, leaving about $167,000 on hand.
  • Her rival DePerno raised $174,000 and spent almost $107,000 during the same period. His campaign had $305,000 on hand and was almost $140,000 in debt, most of which he owed to himself.
  • Benson raised $874,000 and spent almost $2.7 million between Sept. 11 and Oct. 23. She had almost $1.5 million on hand.
  • Karamo, her opponent, raised $241,000 and spent $267,000 during the same time. She had $159,000 left in the bank — almost one-tenth of what Benson had.

Proposal 3 would enshrine the right to abortion and other reproductive care into the state constitution. It would also invalidate a now-blocked 1931 state law that makes abortion a felony punishable by up to four years in prison or up to $5,000 in fine. 

The proposal — among three state abortion proposals on the November ballot — is one of the most watched measures in the country. The issue received national attention after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in late June.

Reproductive Freedom for All, the campaign group sponsoring Proposal 3, raised $34.1 million between July 21 and Oct. 23. Much of its fundraising was from “dark money” groups that are not required to disclose donors, leaving the real source of the money unknown to the public.

The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a liberal national 501(c)(4) group, contributed $5.2 million for the quarter — the most among all donations over the past three months. 

The campaign also received $4.5 million from Open Society Policy Center, the lobbying arm of Open Society Foundation, a private institute founded and chaired by liberal billionaire George Soros.

Among the campaign’s biggest individual donors this quarter is Nishad Singh, director of engineering at FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange company headquartered in the Bahamas. Singh gave the campaign $4 million. Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and a former Democratic presidential candidate, gave the campaign $2 million.

The abortion rights campaign spent $26.2 million over the past three months, with at least $20.3 million spent on ad production and placement on TV, digital platforms, radio and billboards, a Bridge analysis of the campaign finance data shows. 

Countering that effort is anti-abortion coalition Citizens to Support MI Women and Children. The coalition raised $16.5 million in the past three months and spent it all, campaign finance reports show.

Anti-abortion group Right to Life of Michigan was the campaign’s biggest donor of the quarter, contributing $9.2 million — more than half of the coalition’s funds raised during the period. 

As Bridge has reported, Catholic groups are also among the top donors, as Catholic Church leaders in Michigan have urged congregants to “fight like heaven” to defeat Proposal 3

The Michigan Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Michigan, gave $5.9 million between July 21 and Oct. 23. The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw and the Diocese of Lansing — which have vocally opposed the proposal — each gave $100,000.

St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Ann Arbor also gave almost $16,000 to the campaign, records show.

The anti-abortion coalition spent $16 million — almost all it raised this quarter — on digital and TV ad buys over the past three months, the Bridge analysis shows.   

Overall, anti-abortion groups appear to have outspent supporters of Proposal 3 on the airwaves. According to ad tracking firm AdImpact, groups had spent a total of $38.6 million on the abortion rights proposal by Oct. 17, with $22.7 million opposing the proposal and $15.9 million supporting it.

Michigan’s other ballot proposals 

Groups sponsoring other proposals raised millions during the quarter but lag far behind the money poured into Proposal 3.

Promote the Vote, the group championing Proposal 2, raised $11.8 million and spent $8.2 million between July 21 and Oct. 23. 

Prop 2, if approved, would provide nine days of early voting, continue to allow registered voters to vote without an ID if they sign an affidavit, and require the installation of one ballot box for every 150,000 residents, among other things.

By Oct. 23, the group had raised $19.3 million for the entire election cycle, with $9.6 million from the Sixteen Thirty Fund and $1 million from Open Society Foundation, records show. 

The group also received $1.5 million from billionaire philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, who co-founded Schusterman Family Philanthropies. James Walton, founder of WalMart, gave $400,000. Film director Steven Spielberg gave $125,000.

Voters for Transparency and Term Limits, a bipartisan coalition backing Proposal 1, raised $826,000 and spent $845,000 during the most recent quarter. The proposal would apply a flat,  12-year cap on the tenure of state lawmakers regardless of which chamber they are in. It would also tighten personal financial disclosure rules for statewide elected officials and lawmakers. 

Dixon catching up in fundraising

Tudor Dixon, Michigan’s GOP nominee for governor, raised $4.4 million in the past two months — the most her campaign had raised in any single quarter, according to the campaign finance reports.

That is close to the $4.8 million Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer brought in over the same time period, suggesting the Dixon campaign has managed to narrow the fundraising gap between her and Whitmer as the election nears.

Dixon has climbed in the polls in recent months. A Trafalgar group poll in late September suggested Whitmer led by 6 points, whereas the same polling firm’s poll last week showed a tossup, with Whitmer leading by just 0.5 points.

But Dixon is still no match for Whitmer’s fundraising throughout the election cycle, and she lags behind Whitmer in overall spending. By Oct. 23, Dixon had just under $2 million in the bank, whereas Whitmer had more than $4 million on hand, campaign reports show.

Whitmer had raised a total of $36.4 million and spent $30.5 million by Oct. 23. Her campaign has attracted small donors and big donations from union groups, such as the Michigan Laborers Political League and Operating Engineers Local 324 PAC. The two groups each gave Whitmer’s campaign the maximum $71,500 allowed under state law.

The Whitmer campaign spent more than $14.7 million during the two-month period, including $13.1 million on TV and digital ad production and placement, campaign records show. 

Dixon had raised $6.8 million by Oct. 23 — one-fifth of what Whitmer hauled in — with almost two thirds raised during the past two months. 

Dixon had long struggled to raise funds from traditional GOP donors, but received contributions from some high-profile Republicans in the most recent quarter. Ron Boji, president of the Boji Group, gave Dixon the maximum $7,150 allowed for individual donors under state law. Former Republican Gov. John Engler and his wife, Michelle Engler, each gave $7,150. 

Over the past two months, Dixon’s campaign spent almost $2 million, including just over $65,000 on online advertising, video production and ad buys. The campaign placed its first TV ad buy for the general election on Tuesday, which began airing Wednesday, according to the ad tracking firm Medium Buying

So far, the campaign has relied on Michigan Families United — a super PAC financially backed by former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — and outside groups such as the Republican Governors Association to air ads. Michigan Families United spent $6.3 million airing ads for Dixon, and the association spent $3.5 million reserving TV spots for similar ads, as Bridge previously reported

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