Top PACs raised $48 million in 2010 cycle

Era of PAC corporatization begins in Michigan

LANSING – Michigan’s top 150 political action committees (PACs) raised $48,353,506 in the 2010 election cycle, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance from reports filed with the Michigan Department of State.

That figure is up by 16.8 percent compared to the $41,389,877 raised by the top 150 state PACs in the 2008 election cycle, but it is down by 6.8 percent compared to the $51,905,024 raised by the top 150 PACs in the 2006 cycle, the last time the Michigan electorate voted for state senators and constitutional executives.

The top fundraising PAC of the cycle was the RGA Michigan PAC, one of numerous state PACs created by the Republican Governors Association across the country in the 2010 cycle. The RGA Michigan PAC reported $8,429,328 in contributions, a record for a Michigan state PAC. The RGA Michigan PAC gave $5,295,000 to the Michigan Republican Party, $3,000,000 to the campaign committee of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, $130,000 to the Republican Governors Association and it has filed for dissolution.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce was the top contributor in 2010 to the top PAC’s parent organization, the Republican Governors Association. The Michigan Chamber’s corporate contributions to the RGA totaled $5,372,500. Net of the $3,000,000 contribution to the Texas governor’s campaign, the contributions ascribed to individual donors to RGA Michigan PAC were a near perfect replacement for the Michigan Chamber’s contribution to the RGA. Of the $8.4 million in individual contributions recorded by RGA Michigan PAC, 98 percent came from persons who do not reside in Michigan. The individual contributions that came to the RGA Michigan PAC first passed through the parent organization.

The legislative caucuses’ PACs occupied four of the top nine spots in this cycle’s top 150, led by the House Democratic Fund at $3,780,415. In aggregate, the caucus PACs’ fundraising was down by 24 percent compared to the 2006 cycle: $9,043,719 compared to $11,868,330. The caucus PACs ended the 2010 cycle with 33 percent less debt than 2006: $1,530,000 compared to $2,264,000.

Another major change in PAC fundraising compared to the recent past was the diminution of the Coalition for Progress. The PAC, which is nearly entirely funded by Kalamazoo philanthropist Jon Stryker, was down by 73 percent compared to 2006, from $5,460,077 to $1,479,950. Coalition for Progress was first organized in the 2006 cycle.

Corporate PACs made their Michigan debut in 2010, exploiting the opening created by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In Michigan, corporate funds can be used only for independent expenditures, not contributions to candidates, so organizations that are using corporate funds, so far, are segregating their corporate money in new PACs. The most notable corporate PACs were those of the Michigan Association of Realtors, $450,100, and Business Leaders for Michigan II, at $135,500.

The top politicians’ leadership PACs in 2010 were those of Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano at $432,945, and Mitt Romney’s state Free & Strong America PAC at $346,700. Romney’s state Commonwealth PAC raised $1,854,302 in the 2006 cycle.

“Formerly, we could say there was accountability for who was giving what to whom in the world of state political action committees,” said Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. “The Byzantine transfers into and out of the Republican Governors Association, and the ‘Russian doll’ financing structure in the Realtors’ corporate PAC are clear notice that state PACs have new formulations to defeat transparency. That is not a positive development for democracy in Michigan.”

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