Voters could see as many as seven proposals to amend the Michigan Constitution or state law on this November’s ballot – or none at all.
Bureaucratic and legal reviews continue of the various proposals. Regardless of how they play out, though, Michigan has seen an unprecedented surge of spending to collect signatures and advance ideas to the ballot. Nearly $30 million has been raised – with $20 million of it spent – before a single vote has been cast.
Rich Robinson, who heads the watchdog group Michigan Campaign Finance Network, believes 2012 is a record for such spending, though figures prior to 1994 are spotty. "I can't imagine any collection came close at this stage," he said.
Six groups collected and recently submitted the required number of signatures to qualify for November. Those signatures still must be certified by state election officials.
A seventh potential ballot question, a referendum seeking to repeal the state’s emergency manager law, has long had its signatures in. But a group called Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility is seeking in court to have the EM review kept off the ballot, saying advocates to put the question before the voters used the wrong font size.
Supporters and opponents of the issue are awaiting a state Supreme Court decision on the question. In a brief for the court, election officials warned that if the court rules the font size on the EM petition was improper, the other six ballot questions could be tossed, as well.
The ballot committees have raised $29.3 million and have spent $20 million through July 25, according to the MCFN.
"Voters should understand that, for the most part, ballot initiatives are anything but grass-roots democracy. Mostly, they are driven by an interest group with very deep pockets facing off against an opposing interest group with very deep pockets," Robinson explained. "If there is an outlier this year, it's Stand Up for Democracy (the group pushing a vote on the emergency manager law). They collected adequate signatures for less than $185,000. I know, as a referendum, their signature requirement was lower, and I know (public employee union) AFSCME put up almost all the money, but consider the Detroit International Bridge Co. (owner of the Ambassador Bridge) spent more than 10 times as much for petition circulation. Stand Up involved authentic voter passion, not just the hirelings of a cranky billionaire (Manuel Moroun)."
Charles Ballard, an economist at Michigan State University who also runs the State of the State survey, said voters have to expect more of themselves when they enter the voting booth:
"Michigan’s voters have approved some ballot proposals that I believe pushed policy in the right direction, such as Proposal A, which revamped school funding in 1994. And the voters have turned down some stinkers. But there is a serious danger that the ballot initiative process can enshrine bad policies. I believe that danger is growing, as more and more special-interest money is available to finance misleading ads."
Here is a list of the seven proposals, names of groups that are for and against them and details on the amount of money they have raised and spent as of July 27, according to the Michigan Secretary of State:
Supermajority tax votes
This proposal would require a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature to raise taxes or expand the tax base.
Sponsored by: Michigan Alliance for Prosperity, http://miprosperity.com/
Raised: $1,886,000 (plus another $403,921 in in-kind contributions)
Almost all of Michigan Alliance for Prosperity’s money comes from organizations connected to Manuel "Matty" Moroun, owner of the Ambassador Bridge. Liberty Bell Agency of Warren contributed $2,288,921. According to Reuters, Matthew Moroun, son of Manuel Moroun, has been a manager of Liberty Bell since 1994. The second-largest contributor is Lansing attorney Samuel Theis, with $300.
Opposed by: Defend Michigan Democracy, http://defendmidemocracy.com/
Defend Michigan Democracy is backed by health care, senior citizens, labor and nonprofit groups. Its treasurer is Lynn Jondahl, who was a state representative for 22 years, 1972-1994. The Michigan Townships Association and Michigan Corrections Organization each gave $25,000. AARP gave $20,000. The Michigan Education Association gave $15,000. The Michigan State Council of Service Employees gave $10,000. The Michigan Health & Hospital Association gave $10,000.
Proposal to allow the establishment of eight new casinos in Michigan.
Sponsored by: Citizens for More Michigan Jobs, http://www.romuluscasino.com/
Citizens for More Michigan Jobs was formed by Jobs First LLC, a group of business people seeking to build eight casinos throughout Michigan. Documents filed with the state's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs do not identify investors in the firm. Jobs First contributed $2,520,000 to CMMJ. Triple Investment Group LLC of Pontiac and Detroit Casino Properties Group LLC of Detroit each gave $100,000.
Opposed by: Protect MI Vote, http://www.protectmivote.com/
Protect MI Vote is financed mainly by existing casino interests. MGM Grand Detroit Casino gave $58,050. Firekeepers Development Authority of Battle Creek gave $55,659.25. Greektown Casino LLC of Detroit gave $55,050. Four Winds Casino Resort of New Buffalo gave $52,379. Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Mt. Pleasant gave $49,525.
Renewable energy standard
Proposal to require Michigan utilities to obtain 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources.
Sponsored by: Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs, http://mienergymijobs.com/
Opposed by: Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Coalition, http://www.careformich.com/
The Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Coalition is supported mainly by the state’s utilities. DTE Energy and Consumers Energy each have donated $2.9 million to the coalition.
Opposed by: Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution
Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution was formed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and includes other business lobbying groups. It appears to be poised to oppose all of the ballot proposals, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. The Chamber gave $100,571.95. The Michigan Chamber Pac II gave $30,100. The Michigan Manufacturers Association, Small Business Association of Michigan, Business Leaders for Michigan, Associated Builders and Contractors of Lansing, West Michigan Policy Forum of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce each gave $30,000.
Collective bargaining rights
Proposal to establish a constitutional right of workers to organize and bargain collectively with employers.
Sponsored by: Protect Our Jobs, http://protectourjobs.com/
Protect Our Jobs is backed by numerous labor unions, including the AFL-CIO ($1,250,000), the United Auto Workers ($1 million), the Michigan Education Association ($500,000), AFSCME ($500,000), Teamsters ($333,334) and Professional Staff Association of East Lansing ($300,000).
Opposed by: Protecting Michigan’s Constitution (see above)
Opposed by: Michigan Freedom to Work PAC, http://www.mifreedomtowork.com/ (The PAC is listed with a post office box in Sterling Heights.)
The Freedom to Work PAC, formed to support Right to Work measures in the Legislature, announced last week it would be working to defeat the collective bargaining proposal.
Proposal to require a statewide popular vote to allow the state of Michigan to build or own an international bridge or tunnel for use by motor vehicles.
Sponsored by: The People Should Decide, http://thepeopleshoulddecide.com/
The People Should Decide is another Moroun family group. DIBC Holdings Inc., the Moroun company that owns the Ambassador Bridge, is the only direct money contributor to The People Should Decide. Central Transport Inc. of Warren is listed with a $100,000 inkind contribution for miscellaneous labor and personnel resources.
Home health care
Proposal to re-establish a state registry, called the Michigan Quality Home Care Council, that would pre-screen home health care providers serving Medicaid recipients. Providers could engage in limited collective bargaining with the council, but would not be state employees.
Sponsored by: Citizens for Affordable Quality Home Care
Citizens for Affordable Quality Home Care is backed by labor and disability rights groups. Home Care First Inc. of East Lansing is listed with $1,840,000.
Opposed by: Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution (see above)
Referendum on emergency manager law
Sponsored by: Stand Up for Democracy, http://standup4democracy.com/
Stand Up for Democracy is a labor-backed group. All of its financial contributions through July came from Michigan AFSCME.
Opposed by: Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility
Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility was formed by Bob LaBrant, a former Michigan Chamber of Commerce official. The campaign received $25,000 from Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility in East Lansing.
Rick Haglund has had a distinguished career covering Michigan business, economics and government at newspapers throughout the state. Most recently, at Booth Newspapers he wrote a statewide business column and was one of only three such columnists in Michigan. He also covered the auto industry and Michigan’s economy extensively.