Special-interest money floods ballot-measure efforts

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)

Spent: $1,852,961.84

Balance: $33,038.16

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/

Raised: $105,342

Spent: $336.30

Balance: $105,005.70

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.

Casino expansion

Proposal to allow the establishment of eight new casinos in Michigan.

Sponsored by: Citizens for More Michigan Jobs, http://www.romuluscasino.com/

Raised: $2,772,000

Spent: $2,727,262.71

Balance: $44,737.29

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.

CMMJ released names of people who it says invested to one of LLCs/casino sites or to Jobs First LLC.

Opposed by: Protect MI Vote, http://www.protectmivote.com/

Raised: $324,491.79

Spent: $212,580.66

Balance: $111,911.13

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/

Raised: $2,247,277.80

Spent: $1,812,562.11

Balance: $434,715.69

Green Tech Action Fund of San Francisco gave $1,342,000. Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund of New York gave $450,000. Michigan League of Conservation Voters of Ann Arbor gave $275,000.

Opposed by: Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Coalition, http://www.careformich.com/

Raised: $5,922,165

Spent: $5,688,236.88

Balance: $233,928.12

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

Raised: $340,110.00

Spent: $49,894.76

Balance: $290,215.24

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/

Raised: $8,067,869.79

Spent: $1,153,619.11

Balance: $6,914,250.68

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.)

Raised: $0

Spent: $0

Balance: $0

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.

International bridges

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/

Raised: $4,657,500.00

Spent: $4,588,552.97

Balance: $68,947.03

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

Raised: $1,888,203.20

Spent: $1,754,333.21

Balance: $133,869.99

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/

Raised: $183,860.92

Spent: $182,965.07

Balance: $895.85

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

Raised: $25,000

Spent: $24,481.75

Balance: $518.25

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.

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Big D
Tue, 07/31/2012 - 11:12am
This article is a useful synopsis of funding behind various pro and con groups for the pending ballot initiatives. It is NOT a useful guide to the substance of the various initiatives. It is important for voters to understand what the background is, the actual deep pockets behind, and all the implications of each proposal. In certain cases, the proposals have hidden motives that are being whitewashed by their supporters. Believe the old maxim, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Personally, I think several of the objectives have no business being in the state Constitution, whether or not they make sense or are approved. Note that this piece makes no mention of the fact that the "Home health care" proposal campaign is funded by the SEIU, and actually merely enables them to continue collecting "dues" from predominantly Medicaid-supported family members caring for their disabled at home. As a consequence, I seriously question the neutrality of Bridge, who spewed the following half-truth: "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." This is despite the law passed and signed by Gov. Snyder clarifying that these "home health care workers" are not state employees and are not subject to being stealth organized and having "dues" confiscated from their payments. SEIUs investment will be well worth it if they succeed in deceiving a majority of Michigan voters, because they have already collected in excess of $30 million via this scheme, which was originally swung with collaboration by Jennifer Granholm.
Mike Gillman
Tue, 07/31/2012 - 11:38am
The earlier comments by "Big D" are appropriate. This particular laundry list of proposals will make it easy for print media editorial boards to simply say "Vote NO" on all of them. Both the origins and the sponsorships will justify that. More disturbing is the accurate description of Bridge treatment of the "home health care" issue. The Bridge is earning a reputation of being pretty even handed. Where opinion meets facts, the Bridge is usually on the right side (the international bridge issue.) But to call the home health care issue anything but a fraud being perpetrated by the SEIU to steal money from low income caregivers is puzzling.
Tue, 07/31/2012 - 1:37pm
With the November bedsheet sized ballot, it would make sense for voters to use absentee ballots. The absentee ballot allows the voter to carefully read each proposal and then make a good selection. The same process would be used for candidates at all levels. This is valuable time well spent. My age allows me the use of the absentee ballot. I would favor allowing any citizen to use the absentee ballot method of voting, regardless of age or infirmity. This not current law. Lawmakers should take up this non-partisan issue to speed up the election process, since the more absentee ballots used, the shorter the lines at polling places for the voters actually present. Please vote in August and November!