The Michigan Chamber of Commerce is trying to distance itself from some – but not all – of the incendiary emails about a controversial 2011 state redistricting effort that were made public this week.
Richard Studley, president and CEO of the powerful business group, this week tweeted his disgust over 2011 emailed remarks by Jack W. Daly, then chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Livonia. Daly wrote that he wanted to cram “Dem garbage” in southeast Michigan in “only four districts” to help Republican candidates in Michigan.
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“All Michiganders should be treated with courtesy & respect,” Studley tweeted Thursday. “In 2011 Jack Daly was a Congressional aide with no relationship to the MI Chamber. We were not aware of his negative remarks about Democratic voters then and categorically reject them now!"
But Studley isn’t condemning other emails, including those sent between Daly and then-chamber executive Robert LaBrant about tweaking district lines in metro Detroit to “increase the black population in the black districts.”
“The obvious objective – putting dems in a dem district and reps in a gop district,” Daly wrote to LaBrant and others in one 2011 email, which were cited in court papers that are part of an ongoing federal lawsuit challenging the state’s redistricting system.
Brandon Dillon, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, told Bridge on Friday that Studley’s condemnation falls well short – since the new emails reported by Bridge show a top chamber executive participating in many of the discussions.
“They are learning well from their friend in the White House how to lie with a straight face,” Dillon said.
“They lied back then when they said they weren’t gerrymandering districts and they are lying now when they say they didn’t know about these emails.”
A screenshot from a lawsuit describing an alleged 2011 email exchange between GOP staffer Jack Daly and Robert LaBrant, then a senior executive with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
LaBrant, who retired from the chamber in 2012, hasn’t returned phone messages this week.
Studley told Bridge on Friday the emails that have emerged are “just snippets,” “seven years old” and may not reflect the “entire thread of emails.” During the conversation, he repeatedly called LaBrant a “former employee.”
“It’s a fairly common occurrence to receive emails that people don't agree with,” Studley said.
“I was not aware of (Daly’s) comments at the time and if I had been I would have condemned them.”
In the email Studley said he was criticizing, written to GOP consultant Jeff Timmer, Daly suggests stuffing “ALL of the Dem garbage in Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland and Macomb counties into only four districts. Is there anyone on our side who doesn’t recognize that dynamic?” It’s unclear from the lawsuit if LaBrant of the chamber also received that particular email.
Studley’s tweet denouncing Daly’s remarks did not mention other emails introduced this month as evidence in a lawsuit by the League of Women Voters of Michigan and 11 Democratic voters.
The suit against Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson alleges the 2011 state legislative and congressional maps are so gerrymandered that they violate the U.S. Constitution.
The Michigan Chamber is not a party in the suit, but some of its emails involving LaBrant and Republican consultants have been unearthed in the court case.
Among the emails:
- LaBrant, then with the chamber, wrote that the state’s 4th Congressional District was redrawn to the wishes of then U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland. “We will accommodate whatever Dave wants in his district,” LaBran wrote on May 18, 2011, to two Republican consultants and a Camp staffer. “We’ve spent a lot of time providing options to ensure we have a solid 9-5 delegation in 2012 and beyond.”
- LaBrant rejected an early map that gave Republicans a 10-4 advantage, writing in an email “we needed for legal and PR purposes a good looking map that did not look like an obvious gerrymander.”
- An unnamed GOP aide wrote the proposed 9th Congressional District in southeast Michigan jutted up “between Mound and Vandyke (sic) down to 15 mile … perfect. it’s giving the finger to (Democratic congressman) sandy levin. I love it.”
This is the photo on Jack W. Daly’s LinkedIn page of Daly, left, posing with Rush Limbaugh and a baby.
Daly’s former boss, McCotter, briefly ran for president in 2012 and resigned from Congress when his petitions for re-election were invalidated and several staffers were charged with crimes related to falsifying nominating petitions.
McCotter did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday
Nor did Daly, whose LinkedIn profile features a photo of him and conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh holding a cigar to a baby’s mouth and indicates he is an attorney in North Carolina and chairman of Right Reach LLC.
His wife, Kay Daly, was an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 2016 in North Carolina.
Earlier this year, Roll Call reported that Daly in 2000 “attempted to recruit a homeless man to run against the incumbent North Carolina state auditor who had the same last name to spark confusion on the Democratic primary ballot.”
The chamber – and LaBrant – have been involved in redrawing political districts every 10 years. In Michigan, the political party in power generally controls how legislative districts are drawn in the state, a practice that has been criticized because it is vulnerable to partisan practices.
The Michigan Supreme Court is weighing whether a citizen initiative by the group Voters Not Politicians that would create an independent commission to draw districts can appear on the November state ballot.
The chamber’s political arm is helping fund a separate group, Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution that sued to block the redistricting initiative from appearing on the November ballot.
The chamber has also been heavily involved in helping to finance the campaigns of Republican-backed justices to the Supreme Court, including two Republican incumbents running this year. Republicans hold a 5-2 advantage on the high court, the same court that will deciding the redistricting ballot fight.
All Michiganders should be treated with courtesy & respect. In 2011 Jack Daly was a Congressional aide with no relationship to the MI Chamber. We were not aware of his negative remarks about Democratic voters then and categorically reject them now! https://t.co/4KZyTub4Ez— Rich Studley (@rstudley) July 26, 2018
Studley has repeatedly told Bridge and other media outlets his group doesn’t support gerrymandering.
“We aren’t in favor of gerrymandering, that’s silly,” Studley told The Detroit News. “What we want is a fair and open process.”
Brandon Dillon is chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.
Dillon countered that the emails show the depth of the involvement of the chamber in gerrymandering to favor Republican candidates.
“It was enlightening to see them in print and how much they were cheating,” Dillon said of the 2011 emails.
“This is what you get … when one party is in power too long.”