By CRAIG MAUGER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING — As a handful of ballot proposal campaigns work this summer to change Michigan law in 2018, the names of many individuals and businesses whose dollars ultimately helped fund the campaigns are hidden from public view.
The four most active campaigns seeking to gather petition signatures this summer have reported $1.4 million in support as of disclosures on file this week. Of that total, about $874,000 — more than half — appears to have come from nonprofit organizations or trade associations that don’t have to disclose where their money comes from.
Some of those organizations say they aren’t attempting to hide donors’ names because they simply don’t raise money from specific donors for specific campaigns. However, the setup provides an opportunity for someone seeking to influence public policy to do it anonymously.
New campaign finance disclosures from the ballot campaigns are due to the Bureau of Elections on Tuesday.
So far this year, no ballot campaign has received a larger percentage of its support from a single nonprofit organization than the Clean MI Committee has. The committee, championed by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, is gathering signatures to change the Michigan Constitution to institute a part-time Legislature in Michigan. The committee will need more than 315,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot.
As of June 9, the committee had reported raising $202,956. Of that total, $200,000, or 98.5 percent, had come from a Lansing-based nonprofit organization called the Fund for Michigan Jobs.
The $200,000 contribution is significant for the nonprofit considering it raised only $176,215 for the entirety of 2014 and 2015, according to federal tax records.
The Fund for Michigan Jobs, which has worked with Calley previously, has a three-member board featuring Larry Meyer, retired chairman of the Michigan Retailers Association, John Llewellyn, former executive vice president of the Michigan Bankers Association, and election attorney John Pirich.
The fund’s board voted to contribute to the ballot campaign, Llewellyn said in a phone interview. He called the push for a part-time Legislature a “worthwhile conversation.” He mentioned the possibility of term-limit reform and said of what ultimately comes out of the conversation on a part-time Legislature, “I don’t know.”
While the nonprofit has at least once in the past reimbursed Calley directly, according to tax filings, Llewellyn said the organization is independent of the lieutenant governor.
The organization cares about disadvantaged children, which is a subject Calley has worked heavily on, Llewellyn explained.
The Detroit News reported on the Fund for Michigan Jobs on July 13.
This isn’t the fund’s first venture into ballot campaigns: In 2012, it provided $565,000 to the committee opposing a proposal to require voter approval for any new international bridge or tunnel. Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration also opposed the 2012 proposal.
Likewise, nonprofits financially supporting ballot campaigns in Michigan is nothing new. In 2012, for example, a nonprofit gave $9.3 million to a committee supporting a proposal to establish a guarantee of unionized home health care workers.
A nonprofit has played a large role in the campaign to legalize marijuana in Michigan. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol reported $671,823 in support as of June 13. Of that total, $246,199 has come in the form of in-kind or direct contributions from the national Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which has both a foundation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and a social welfare organization under Section 501(c)(4) of the IRC, according to the group’s website.
The project, which is focused on ending marijuana prohibition, has provided consulting, fundraising and travel for the campaign in Michigan.
While the MPP doesn’t disclose its own donors, Morgan Fox, senior communications manager for the MPP, said the support that went to the Michigan campaign was part of the organization’s general operating budget.
“We do not accept donations to our general fund earmarked for specific campaigns because that would circumvent campaign finance disclosure laws at the state level,” Fox said. “Such donors are asked to donate directly to individual campaigns for transparency.”
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has also received $100,000 from another ballot committee, MiLegalize 2018, $148,500 from businesses and $126,720 from individuals.
A ballot committee has also formed to oppose the coalition’s efforts. The Committee to Keep Pot Out of Neighborhoods and Schools had raised $5,000 as of June 13. The $5,000 came from the Michigan Responsibility Council, a nonprofit trade association, which calls itself “Michigan’s premier cannabis association committed to educating, promoting and advancing the study of legitimate use of cannabis health care.”
The council’s president, Suzie Mitchell, confirmed in an email that the council doesn’t disclose its donors. The council spent $86,000 on lobbying in Michigan in 2016, according to reports filed with the state.
A trade association has helped fund the ballot campaign trying to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law, which sets payment standards for certain public construction projects.
The committee pushing the proposal, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, had raised $477,945 in 2017 as of June 16. Of the total, $427,945 came from either the Associated Builders and Contractors Michigan (ABC) or the Construction Legal Rights Foundation, according to campaign finance reports.
ABC Michigan describes itself as a “construction industry association.” The Construction Legal Rights Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., was formed under Section 501(c)(6) of the IRS Code, which covers trade associations, according to tax recrods.
Jeff Wiggins, state director of the ABC Michigan, said his organization doesn’t disclose its donors. But like the Marijuana Policy Project, Wiggins said ABC doesn’t accept contributions designated specifically for the ballot campaign.
Protecting Michigan Taxpayers has also received $50,000 from September Group, a campaign consulting company based in Wyoming.
The campaign opposing the prevailing wage repeal is Protect Michigan Jobs. It reported $134,738 in support for 2017 as of June 16. All of the support had come from labor organizations, like the Michigan Building and Construction Trades and the Michigan Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association.
The other group that’s already reported raising money for a ballot proposal so far this summer Voters Not Politicians, which wants to change the Michigan Constitution to require an independent redistricting commission.
As of April 20, it had reported about $54,915 in support. Of that total, $52,494, or 95 percent, had come from individuals. The rest of the money was from a another ballot committee, in-kind contributions of meeting space and business-related transactions.