Proxies dominate Q1 2014 Michigan TV campaigns

Disclosure for key groups ranges from inconvenient to nonexistent

LANSING - Independent committees and organizations have dominated Michigan's statewide political campaigns through the first quarter of 2014. In the most visible aspect of the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial campaigns - television advertising - independent groups outspent candidates by a wide margin. Disclosure of the independent groups' finances ranges from inconvenient to nonexistent.

Records of the spending were compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network using data from the public files of state broadcasters and cable systems, and from the Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG).

U.S Senate

The U.S. Senate campaign began first on Michigan's airwaves in 2014. Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit corporation classified as a social welfare organization by the Internal Revenue Service, started its campaign against Democrat Gary Peters and his support for the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," in mid-January. AFP's ads have been seen in every market in the state and its gross spending through March 31st was $2.6 million.

Americans for Prosperity, which is similarly active in several other states where competitive Senate races are anticipated, has reported none of its advertising to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Its ads do not explicitly tell viewers how they should vote, so they are considered to be issue advertising. If such ads are aired within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election, they are classified as electioneering communications and the spending must be reported to the FEC.

As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation, Americans for Prosperity does not disclose any information about its donors publicly. Americans for Prosperity was one of the top spenders among dark money nonprofits in the 2012 presidential campaign.

On the opposing side, Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic federal SuperPAC, has spent $884,000 criticizing Republican candidate Terri Land and her policy positions. Senate Majority PAC advertised for three weeks in late February and March. Its ads were seen in Michigan's four major metropolitan media markets, but not in northern Michigan or the Upper Peninsula.

As a federal SuperPAC, Senate Majority PAC files regular reports of receipts and expenditures with the FEC. Since January 1, 2013, it has raised $19,714,222. Its Michigan donors, so far, have been Jon Stryker - $400,000, and the UAW Education Fund - $250,000. Its advertising buys are not reported to the FEC by state, or by media market.

Gary Peters' campaign committee began TV advertising in the last days of March. His spending in the quarter totaled just $18,000, with ads running in all markets except Detroit and Marquette. The Peters campaign continued its advertising into April, including in Detroit.

Americans for Prosperity is continuing its advertising against Peters across the state in April, at a spending rate that is much greater than the Peters campaign committee. AFP has been joined in the anti-Peters advertising by Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a 501(c)(6) business association that The Washington Post described earlier this year as a de facto bank for a complex network of nonprofit political organizations spearheaded by Charles and David Koch. Freedom Partners had been publicly unknown until it filed its first federal tax return in November 2013.

Gubernatorial

Incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder's campaign has been a part of the gubernatorial air war - just not lately. Snyder's campaign ran a single ad during the Super Bowl in every market except Marquette, then followed with a cable campaign. In total, the Snyder campaign spent $666,000. Its Super Bowl ad on WJBK in Detroit accounted for $400,000 of that total.

The Democratic Governors Association has done all the television on behalf of Mark Schauer. Its ads ran between January 28th and March 6th in the Detroit, Flint/Saginaw and Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo media markets. They were not seen in Lansing, northern Michigan or the Upper Peninsula. Total spending during the first quarter was $1,469,000.

The DGA is a 527 political organization and it files regular reports of receipts and expenditures with the Internal Revenue Service. From January 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014, the DGA has raised $37.6 million. Michigan donors who gave at least $5,000 account for just $265,350. The top four Michigan donors to the DGA, Caidan Management - $70,000, Ford Motor Company - $50,000, Chrysler Corporation - $45,350 and Dow Chemical Company - $40,000, were among the leading Michigan donors to the Republican Governors Association as well.

The Democratic Governors Association does not report its media buys to the IRS by state, or by media market.

The Republican Governors Association did not join the fray until the last week of March. It limited its spending to the same three media markets as the DGA: Detroit, Flint/Saginaw and Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo. Its spending total for the quarter was $286,000.

The RGA reports to the IRS as a 527 committee, like the DGA. In the 15 months since January 1, 2013, the RGA has raised $73 million. Michigan donors who have given at least $5,000 account for $1,846,502 of that total. Top Michigan donors are ETC Capital LLC - $281,652, Hewlett Packard (using a Pontiac address) - $215,900, Dow Chemical Company - $100,450, Caidan Management - $100,000 and J.C. Huizenga - $100,000.

Like the DGA, the RGA does not report its media buys by state, or by market.

Neither organization is required to report its activity to the Michigan Department of State.

Against Electricity Deregulation

The group Citizens for Energizing Michigan's Economy (CEME) began advertising against electricity deregulation legislation on February 9th. Its statewide spending total through March 31st is $490,000. CEME's leadership appears to be drawn from Consumers Energy. Its ad campaign, which pointedly advocates defeat of a bill under consideration in the Legislature, should be reported as a lobbying expenditure. Reports disclosing lobbying activity for the first seven months of the year are due to be filed by August 31st.

3rd Congressional District

The 3rd Congressional District Republican primary election, where Brian Ellis is challenging incumbent Rep. Justin Amash, has had the most advertising activity among congressional races, so far. In that race the Club for Growth ran a three-week ad blitz attacking Ellis, from January 16th through February 5th. Total spending was $98,000. Ellis ran his own two-week campaign in March, spending $104,000.

"We have reached a point where candidates routinely are bystanders at their own campaigns," said Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, "and financial accountability is strained, or nonexistent."

"Rather than a celebration of democracy or the First Amendment, these campaigns are like a war game for the wealthy."

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