Center for Michigan arms voters with info for Election 2012

This election is unlike any in my memory – that goes back a long way, since I’m 74.

In addition to candidates for the state House of Representatives, justices of the state Supreme Court and various other local issues, there are six proposals on the ballot, five to amend the constitution and one a referendum on a law passed by the Legislature. 

The committees supporting or opposing the ballot proposals have spent $141 million, according to the Detroit Free Press. That’s the largest amount raised and spent on ballot proposals in Michigan history, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

There are also six major party candidates for three seats on the Supreme Court. According to Rich Robinson, executive director of MCFN, the state’s two main political parties have set aside at least $10 million for the race, around three times what the candidates have raised themselves. 

Robinson has documented another $10 million in unreported spending for TV advertising, together with an undetermined amount for radio and direct mail. 

Because Michigan’s campaign disclosure laws are shamefully anemic, much of this torrent of spending – especially for the Supreme Court – has come from anonymous donors. So who knows what interests are spending beaucoup bucks to game the judicial system. 

That’s not so in the case of Manuel "Matty" Moroun, billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge, and his family, who have spent record amounts trying to safeguard their monopoly.

They’ve raised nearly $32 million for the committee supporting Proposal 6, which would require a public vote in order to build an international bridge.  Overall, the Moroun family has raised or spent more than $100 million in attempts to pass or defeat the six ballot proposals, according to Bridge Magazine, a publication of the Center for Michigan.

The Center is a "think-and-do-tank" I founded back in 2006 to try to bring a sense of moderate, nonpartisan rationality to Michigan politics. An important part of the Center’s work is to help fill the information vacuum that has opened up with the hobbling of the newspapers and broadcast media that used to report in detail what was going on in Lansing and with state policy.

All in all, Bridge has run 10 in-depth stories on the six ballot proposals; they can be found at They’ve also appeared in Crain’s Detroit Business, Mlive and the Traverse City Record-Eagle. Deadline Detroit recently gave Bridge a public service award for "Ballot Mania", a guide to the proposals that is "the clearest, most useful resource of its type."

The Michigan Truth Squad is another program from The Center for Michigan. It’s designed to cut through the claims – true, false, misleading, whatever – in political ads, whether on TV, radio or in mailers. A team of experienced (and gimlet-eyed) reporters examines and fact checks the ads and blows the whistle, calling fouls of varying severity or no fouls.; While there are other fact-checking services in Michigan, the Truth Squad has been by far the most active, posting from July 1 through Nov. 5 a total of 68 posts, a slight majority on the various ballot proposals. Truth Squad posts can be found here.

Record-Eagle Editor Mike Tyree says, "Bridge election coverage is very helpful in augmenting our coverage, especially on the ballot proposals. There really is no one out there who is breaking down those misleading and false ads. It’s a nice tonic for democracy."

Once citizens have taken a deep breath and reflected on the abuses of our democratic system so sadly on display during this election, I suspect there will be loud calls for reform.  In the meantime, our work at Bridge Magazine and the Michigan Truth Squad has tried to help ordinary citizens exercise their political rights in a knowing and informed way.

Editor’s note: Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics. He is also the founder and chairman of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, bipartisan centrist think–and–do tank, designed to cure Michigan’s dysfunctional political culture; the Center also publishes Bridge Magazine. The opinions expressed here are Power’s own and do not represent the official views of the Center. He welcomes your comments via email.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Tue, 11/06/2012 - 8:31am
Proposal 6? According to the polls the uneducated, those without a high school diploma are voting yes 55% yes to 45% no. Anyone with a high school diploma is voting no on proposal 6, 62% no to 38%yes. College educated 75% no to 25% yes. Those with a degree in economics 95% no to 5% yes.The only question that is left to answer is. "Are there enough stupid people in this state to pass proposal 6?" VOTE NO ON 6! TELL YOUR FRIENDS.
Tue, 11/06/2012 - 8:54am
Thanks to everyone at the Center and writers for Bridge for all the hard work in trying to bring the truth to the voters. You do a wonderful job. Thanks again.
Tue, 11/06/2012 - 12:00pm
"Once citizens have taken a deep breath and reflected on the abuses of our democratic system so sadly on display during this election, I suspect there will be loud calls for reform." Mr.Power is having a totally different experience with the democratic system than I have had. In my youth over in south eastern Michigan the deceased from Elosie (State run facility) were voting in numbers of near 50 in and election that was determined by 6 votes, the Party in power got the results they wanted. That would seem to be an abuse of the democratic system. I wonder what abuse Mr. Power is experiencing today and how it compares. Today I see ads from all sides of the issue, I recieve calls offer diverse political positions. When I voted no one bothered me, I have full confidence in our City Clerk that all who vote will actually be alive an registered voters. This is purely conjecture, but could it be that Mr. Power is reminiscing about how the news media had such a strangle hold on how the voters were informed and so infleunced 'back in the day'. Today it seems voters have more sources of information are more about making their own choices, that are so accustomed to all the politicing and advertising. Maybe Mr. Power yearns for when an Editorial opinion was accepted blindly rather then questioned. With all my experiences, and more times than not being on the opposite side of how the elections go, I still trust to the voters and accept their choices. I wonder with the changing nature of politics if Mr. Power is wishing too much for the 'old days' when it was more party 'bosses' deliverying votes/voter blocks and there wasn't so much voters choising on their own. As long as those who vote are properly register and have a secret ballot I trust to the democratic system. All of the campaigning not matter how much is spent on it is simply noise. For it is the voters ability to chose that is the foundation of the system. Some how from Mr. Power's comments I don't get that he trusts the voters, that he trust a system that allows the voters to pick and chose from all they hear. I know Mr. Luke (wanting to take the selection of the Justices away from voters) doesn't trust the voters, but I am surprise that Mr. Power doesn't seem to either.
Charles buck
Tue, 11/06/2012 - 12:43pm
NO! NO! NO! On props 2,3,4,5, AND Especially 6. The scurrilous behavior behind this attempt to undermine public good is an outrage and insult to the people of Michigan.
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 12:11pm
Mr. Power, you claimed the democratic system was abused. I ma not sure if you felt it was abused by the amount of money that was spent on informing the voters, if it was who was spending the money, or it it was the number of choices that were given to the voters to make. It seems to me that inspite of all that the voters made their choices, that what we have found is that voters can ignore the amounts of dollars spent, who spends them, or what they are spent on and decide what they want. I suspect that the pet issue and the person you credited with promoting it were voted down inspite of all you felt were wrong. I wonder if you will trust the voters any more today then you did yesterday or will you simply make the same whines when next something else you disagree with is placed before the voters. I am on the wrong side of many choices the voters made for candidates and for some ballot issues (though surprisingly very few/maybe two including local issues), but as I mentioned before the election I trust to the voters and their chosing what they want to happen not simply because a lot of money is being spent to encourage them to vote one way or another. You may want another system, one more restrictive of voter choice, but I believe that the voters are who we have to trust and the best system available is one with the least restrictions on what and how the voters are given and informed on their choices. Abuse of the democratic system is when the laws that govern that system are violate not when people working within that system have broader access to information about their choice.