Legislative candidates’ fundraising tops $16 million

Incumbents hold 9:1 money advantage over challengers

LANSING – The field of 513 primary election candidates for the Michigan Legislature report having raised $16.3 million this election cycle through July 23rd, according to reports on file with the state’s Bureau of Elections as of August 1st.

Collectively, the 80 House incumbents and 32 Senate incumbents have taken in $10.4 million and have a 9:1 fundraising advantage over those who filed to challenge them.

Candidates for the 30 open House seats and six open Senate seats have raised $4.9 million. Over one-third of that total is attributable to loans to the campaigns from the candidates.

The 80 incumbent representatives have raised $4,010,134, an average of $50,126. Top fundraisers so far among the incumbents are: Rep. Kathy Angerer (D-Dundee), who is uncontested in the primary but will probably face a robust challenge in the general election from former Rep. Matt Milosch, whom she unseated in 2004, $151,903; Rep. Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek), the chairman of the House Energy and Technology Committee, $136,030; and Speaker of the House Craig DeRoche (R-Novi), $134,560.

The House incumbents are carrying $1,335,841 in debt. The campaign committee of Rep. Lorence Wenke (R-Kalamazoo) owes the representative $335,000 from his costly 2004 primary campaign.

Among the 139 challengers in seats held by incumbents, ten have failed to file a report and 65 others have been granted a reporting waiver, indicating that they will raise and spend less than $1,000. Two candidates are listed as having pending status. The other 62 candidates have raised $619,214, an average of $9,987.

In the 30 open House districts, there are 181 registered candidates. Thirty-nine have failed to file, 43 others have been granted a waiver and one candidate is pending. The remaining 98 candidates have raised $2,645,309, an average of $26,992.

Top fundraisers so far in open seats are: Barb Byrum (D-Onondaga), who is running to succeed her mother, House Minority Leader Diane Byrum, $133,428; Tim Kelly (R-Swan Creek Township), $125,625; Tim Doyle (R-Grand Rapids), $98,865; and Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy), son of 9th District U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, $96,223.

The candidates in open districts have accumulated $904,267 in debt. Nine candidates, including Kelly and Knollenberg, have loaned their campaigns at least $30,000.

The 32 Senate incumbents have raised $6,331,815 so far this cycle, an average of $197,869. If the special election total of Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) is included, the average would top $200,000.

Fundraising leaders among the incumbents are Sens. Jason Allen (R-Traverse City), $379,936; Tony Stamas (R-Midland), $349,336; and Bill Hardiman (R-Grand Rapids), $326,903. The nominal leaders, Sens. Alan Sanborn (R-Richmond) and Bruce Patterson (R-Canton), had inflated totals based on apparently meaningless personal loans circulating into and out of their campaign accounts.

Overall, the incumbent senators have a modest $236,837 in debt. The campaign committee of Sen. Tom George (R-Portage) accounts for more than one-third of that total, $90,000.

Of the 52 challengers to the incumbents, 26 have reporting waivers and four others have failed to file their required reports. The remaining 22 candidates have raised $483,998, an average of $20,181.

In the six open Senate districts, four candidates have obtained filing waivers, but the other 25 candidates have raised $2,213,711, an average of $88,548.

The races to replace term-limited Sens. Ken Sikkema (R-Wyoming), Bob Emerson (D-Flint) and Shirley Johnson (R-Troy), the Senate Majority Leader, Minority Leader and Appropriations Committee chair, respectively, are particularly expensive. In those districts, nine current or former state representatives and four others have collectively raised $1,447,523 already. And the candidates have accumulated $748,137 in debt from self-funding. Former Rep. Joanne Voorhees, Patsy Lou Williamson, the wife of Flint Mayor Don Williamson, and Rep. Shelly Goodman Taub are the fundraising leaders in the respective districts, and each has plowed more than $100,000 into her campaign. Williamson is the source of all but $500 of her $185,000 campaign.

Several trends clearly emerge from the data, according to Michigan Campaign Finance Network executive director Rich Robinson.

“It is extremely uncommon for a challenger to a legislative incumbent to muster the financial backing to have a viable campaign,” said Robinson. “And in open seats, it’s the rule more than the exception, that a candidate will fall back on personal wealth to finance their campaign. All this means fewer and narrower real choices for voters, just as we’re seeing at the congressional level.”

“It’s small wonder that the Congress and the Michigan Legislature are polarized institutions with a disappearing center,” said Robinson. “We should be looking very seriously at public funding of campaigns at both the state and federal level.”

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