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Public sector

Ballot battles buried in cold, hard cash

A variety of special interests, including business and environmental groups, organized labor and — who can forget him — billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun have raised and spent more than $100 million in their attempts to either pass or defeat six proposals on Michigan’s November ballot.

Campaign finance records through Oct. 26 show that ballot committees have raised $134.9 million and spent $124.9 million on the proposals, the largest amounts gathered and spent on ballot issues in Michigan’s history.

“I think all restraint has been lost in political campaigns,” said Rich Robinson, whose Michigan Campaign Finance Network tracks campaign finance. “I think we have decided democracy can be monetized.”

Moroun, owner of the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, was the single-largest contributor to any of the six ballot proposals.

His Detroit International Bridge Co. contributed the entire $31.6 million raised by The People Should Decide, the committee supporting Proposal 6. The proposal would require a public vote in order to construct an international bridge.

The People Should Decide has spent $20.4 million so far in its attempt to pass Proposal 6, which Moroun hopes will kill a proposed new bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

Several other high rollers also wagered their cash in what some have dubbed “ballotpalooza.”

Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, each gave $1 million to Protecting Michigan’s Taxpayers, a business-funded group opposed to Proposal 2, which would lock collective bargaining rights in the state constitution.

Retired Amway founder Rich DeVos and his wife Helen also have donated a combined $1 million to Protecting Michigan’s Taxpayers.

Billionaire hedge fund manager Julian Robertson dropped $1 million into the coffers of Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs, which supports Proposal 3. That proposal would require Michigan utilities to produce 25 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2025.

“We’re in an era where there are people who have more money than they know what to do with and they have decided to spend it on politics,” Robinson said.

Pollster Steve Mitchell said the ballot proposals are attracting so much money because their passage or defeat could have a major impact on Michigan’s economic and political future.

“The economic consequences of most of these ballot proposals are tremendous,” he said.  “Significant changes could occur in the state if they pass.”

Most of the money raised has been by groups either supporting or opposing Proposals 2, 3 and 6. Those ballot committees have collected $118.1 million of the $131 million raised by groups for all six proposals, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Here is a list of the ballot proposals, the major groups that are for and against them, and the amount of money raised and spent as of Oct. 26:

Proposal 1

For: Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility

Raised: $125,000

Spent: $24,481.75

Major contributors*: Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn, $100,000. The Detroit law firm was the only contributor during the latest reporting period.

Against: Stand Up for Democracy

Raised: $1,920,985.92 (plus $150.00 in-kind)

Spent: $542,233.68

Major contributors*: Michigan AFSCME Council 25 — $1,826,000.00; Oregon AFSCME Council 75 —  $50,000.

Against: Michigan League of Responsible Voters

Raised: $845,744

Spent: $150,038

Major contributors*: National Education Association — $585,000; United Auto Workers — $100,744.04; Service Employees International Union — $100,00; Michigan Education Association, $60,000. Thanks to a late contribution on Oct. 26, the NEA, the national teachers union, has given more than half a million dollars to defeat the 2011 emergency manager law.

Proposal 2

For: Protect Working Families

Raised: $21,443,396.02 (plus $258,927.77 in-kind)

Spent: $17,404,477.90

Major contributors*: UAW Community Action Program — $2,000,000; United Auto Workers — $1,342,763; Michigan Education Association — $1,000,000; National Education Association — $1,000,000; USO Crisis Fund (a nonprofit labor organization) — $1,000,000

Against: Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution


Raised: $7,581,250 (plus $68,139.69 in-kind)

Spent: $5,714,505.83

Major contributors*: Michigan Republican Party — $1,500,000; Michigan Chamber of Commerce — $1,754,787.81; Protecting Michigan’s Taxpayers — $941,000; Michigan Health & Hospital Association — $750,000; Students First, Sacramento, Calif., — $500,000.

Against: Protecting Michigan’s Taxpayers

Raised: $19,427,289.65 (plus $140,000 in-kind)

Spent: $13,026,605.43

Major contributors*: Michigan Chamber of Commerce — $5,400,000; Michigan Alliance for Business Growth — $3,500,000; Michigan Chamber PAC II — $2,713,324.98; Sheldon and Miriam Adelson — $2,000,000; Richard and Helen DeVos — $1,000,000.

Proposal 3

For: Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs

Raised: $12,839,367.05 (plus $122,610.07 in-kind)

Spent: $10,418,969.38

Major contributors*: Michigan League of Conservation Voters – $3,100,900; League of Conservation Voters — $1,590,900; Blue Green Alliance —  $1,421,172.24; Julian Robertson, Tiger Management — $1,000,000.

For: Michigan League of Responsible Voters

See above

Against: Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan

Raised: $22,821,821 (plus $1,217,883.55 in-kind)

Spent: $21,120,821.89

Major contributors*: Consumers Energy — $11,463,695.50; DTE Energy — $11,085,400.78.

Against: Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution

See above

Proposal 4

For: Citizens for Affordable Quality Home Care

Raised: $9,003,203.20 (plus $286.50 in-kind)

Spent: $7,959,160.39

Major contributors*: Home Care First Inc. Its $7,998,000.00 in the latest period, running from July 25 to Oct. 26 was the only contribution listed.  Home Care First, which is backed by disability rights and labor groups, added a late contribution of $957,000.

For: Michigan League of Responsible Voters

See above

Against: Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution

See above

Proposal 5

For: Michigan Alliance for Prosperity

Raised: $3,101,177 (plus $403,921.00 in-kind)

Spent:  $3,007,409.33

Major contributors: Liberty Bell Agency — $3,488,921 (connected to the Moroun family).

For: AFP-Michigan Ballot Committee

Raised: $518,911.44 (plus $966,8966.26 in-kind)

Spent: $248,959.40

Major contributors*: Gridiron Communications of Granger, Ind. — $268,911.49; AFP of Arlington, Va. — $250,000.

Against: Defend Michigan Democracy

Raised: $1,184,998 (plus $21,889.17 in-kind)

Spent: $618,312.40

Major contributors*: Michigan Municipal League — $269,000; American Federation of Teachers — $250,000; Michigan Health & Hospital Association — $160,000.

Against: Michigan League of Responsible Voters

See above

Proposal 6

For: The People Should Decide

Raised $31,337,500 (plus $7,889,560 in-kind) (Editor’s note: Summary total and cumulative contributions of DIBC Holdings do not match in state reports.)

Spent: $20,403,981.85

Major contributors*: DIBC Holdings Inc. — $31,589,560.

Against: Taxpayers Against Monopolies

Raised: $919,350

Spent: $86,586.84

Major contributors*: General Motors — $500,000; Chrysler — $100,000; Meijer Inc. — $100,000; Fund for Michigan Jobs — $75,000.

* Does not include in-kind contributions.

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.

Previous coverage

Special interest money floods ballot measure efforts

4 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Craig

    Please be clear on Prop 4. Many Disability groups are against prop 4. The link below will proviede you with more information on why Prop 4 is bad for people with disabilities. And why this only serves the union, SEIU.

  2. Peter Eckstein

    Congratualations to Rick for another good article.

    I am appalled to think that the Adelsons, who made billions in casinos and neither live nor work in Michigan, have a $2 million voice in our state’s future–far, far exceeding that of any individual citizen of the state. It should not be legal for outsiders to buy signatures on ballot proposals, for non-residents to circulate petitions for candidates or proposals, or for outsiders to contribute money (directly or indirectly) to Michigan political campaigns. We are well on the road to Plutocracy in America.

  3. Duane

    “I think all restraint has been lost in political campaigns,” said Rich Robinson, whose Michigan Campaign Finance Network tracks campaign finance. “I think we have decided democracy can be monetized.”

    I am disappointed in Mr. Robinson’s lack of trust in the voters of Michigan. I hear a lot about how the campaigns are buying votes and yet no one has shown where any voter is being paid for their vote. If there isn’t the direct pay for votes then the ‘monetized’ campaign is simply paying for ads. Which is Mr. Robinson?

    If it is the latter, then it is up to the voters to decide whether the ads are providing information that will change their vote or will reinforce their vote. It seems in either case that if it is the ads then we trust to the voters. Whether we like the results or not the system has proven over the decades to be better than any alternative, even when I disagree with the majority.

    I wonder who will be claiming the election was bought come November 7, the ones who spent the most and lost or the those who won.

  4. matty is a troll

    THIS IS MOROUNS WEBSITE TOUTING THE BRIDGE IN THE NIAGRA REGION HE WANTS TO BUILD OFF THE TAXPAYERS BACK. All the while destroying Michigans economy. This guy wants to send the jobs out of Michigan.
    Funny he doesn’t seek an amendment to New Yorks constitution huh?

    Project Benefits

    The project provides numerous benefits to people of the region, including:
    •A second crossing in a region that is in desperate need of more choices.
    •Shorter duration border crossings.
    •Elimination of the truck backups on the QEW, the I-190 and local streets around Front Park in Buffalo and Mather Park in Fort Erie.
    •No residential relocations.
    •Private sector funding.
    •High quality jobs to support the construction, maintenance and operation of the new facility.
    •Strategic location to capture additional
    economic benefits and jobs through intermodal trade opportunities.
    •Relocation of trucks to an industrial rail corridor that is a more appropriate route for international trade.
    •Reuse of existing brownfields.
    •The addition of hundreds of acres of property to the tax rolls.
    •Repositions the Peace Bridge as the gateway and “front door” between Canada and the United States rather than the “loading dock”.
    •Provides redundancy to the existing infrastructure.
    •Helps to insure the free flow of trade between Canada and the United States.
    •Can be a catalyst to the implementation of numerous interrelated projects.
    •Can be the economic engine that helps the revitalization of the region’s economy

    The NITC project is not the solution to fix Michigan’s economy but it is a piece to the puzzle. The train tunnel under the river for double stacked trains is another piece. Both of these pieces are in jeopardy if proposal 6 passes. An air freight hub at willow run is another piece. A
    world class deep water port on the Detroit river. All of the industry in Michigan which if you don’t know is a peninsula might as well be an island with our industrial products subject to if we can move them into a world market. The ports are not located in Detroit they are on the east cost and the west coast. The responsibility of government is to give our state the ability to compete in a global market and keep our state prosperous. Proposal 6 has the potential of destroying the economy of Michigan as it will forever restrict the state from providing the infrastructure required to allow our people to compete globally. November 6th we as a state are making a decision which we will be forced to live with forever with the consequences of which will forever subject the people of this state to the whims of the most litigious lawsuit slinging slum lord that has destroyed every community he has invested in through blockbusting and attrition.
    I am certain this family will jump with glee when all the industry is driven from Michigan to the Buffalo corridor and he can justify building the bridge he is trying to build there. Too bad Michigan, how stupid we will look if we allow this to happen. Look it up (Ambassador Niagara) on hold until Michigan destroys itself with proposal 6.

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