With Questionable Results, Ballot Campaigns Have Spent $3.5 Million

Groups Hoping To Put Proposals Before Voters Spent About $2.9 Million On Circulating Petitions With No One Able To Prove They Collected Enough Signatures So Far

By CRAIG MAUGER and MATTHEW BOAK
Michigan Campaign Finance Network

LANSING — While it appears increasingly unlikely that any group will be able to gather enough petition signatures to put a proposal before Michigan voters in November, those who tried raised some $6.4 million and spent more than $3.5 million.

That $3.5-million figure doesn’t include repayments and refunds of contributions. The spending has been a boon for election law attorneys, campaign consultants, polling companies and, most emphatically, professional petition circulators.

According to campaign finance records, 11 ballot proposal committees who made at least some effort in the last 18 months have spent about $2.9 million on signature gathering since Jan. 1, 2015. The wide majority of that money has gone to signature-gathering companies and a small portion of it has gone to individual signature gatherers.

Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, a campaign aimed at repealing the state’s prevailing wage, spent the most on signature gathering with $1.35 million going to Silver Bullet, a Nevada-based company.

The company and the campaign didn’t collect the needed 252,523 valid signatures to advance the proposal. And the failure led to a lawsuit from Protecting Michigan Taxpayers against Silver Bullet. In that lawsuit, which is ongoing, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers says that the signature-gathering company breached its contract and misrepresented its expertise in Michigan law. In one court filing, the campaign also referred to the Silver Bullet petition drive as “the worst petition drive in the history of the state of Michigan.”

PCI Consultants, which is based in California, received $448,142 in payments for signature gathering from the Citizens for Fair Taxes campaign, which sought to increase taxes on corporations to improve roads. And the Michigan Cannabis Coalition, which sought a proposal to legalize marijuana, paid National Petition Management, a California-based corporation, $395,000 for petition gathering.

MI Legalize, another campaign to legalize marijuana, has spent about $588,000 on petition gathering. Of that, $369,500 went to Arno Petition Company, based in California.

The State Board of Canvassers decided today that MI Legalize hadn’t turned in enough valid signatures to make the 2016 ballot. A legal challenge is likely to ensue.

According to the Bureau of Elections, campaigns need 252,523 valid signatures by June 1 to initiate legislation for November 2016 and 315,654 valid signatures by July 1 to try to amend the Constitution. Currently, those signatures have be to collected in a 180-day circulation window, which is the subject of MI Legalize’s legal criticism. Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill earlier this month that sought to re-enforce the 180-day window.

On that note, law firms that help campaigns navigate Michigan’s complex election laws have also received thousands of dollars in payments since Jan. 15 from ballot campaigns, according to campaign finance records.

Protecting Michigan Taxpayers has paid Doster Law $95,450. Dykema has received $52,984 from ballot campaigns. And Honigman has received $31,000.

A consulting firm, Practical Political Consulting, has received $88,849 from ballot committees, MI Legalize and Committee to Ban Fracking.

Here’s a look at the 11 ballot campaigns MCFN tracked, ranked by fundraising totals, which include in-kind contributions. Data are complete through April 20:

1) Protecting Michigan Taxpayers wanted to repeal the state’s prevailing wage. Since Jan. 1, 2015, it reported raising $2.06 million and spending $1.65 million. Of that, $42,000 was in the form of a refund.

2) Citizens For Fair Taxes wanted to increase corporate taxes for road improvements. Since Jan. 1, 2015, it reported raising $1.34 million and spending $1.30 million. Of that spending total, $733,732 was in the form of contribution repayments. The committee slowed with the Legislature passing its own road-funding plan in 2015.

3) Fair Michigan wanted to ban discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation and sex. Since Jan. 1, 2015, it reported raising $1.01 million and spending $1.01 million. However, almost all of that spending was repayments of contributions. The committee stalled early on and has since dissolved.

4) MI Legalize wanted to legalize marijuana. Since Jan. 1, 2015, it reported raising $888,656 and spending $704,974.

5) Michigan Cannabis Coalition had its own proposal to legalize marijuana. Since Jan. 1, 2015, it reported raising $651,420 and spending $498,871.

6) Raise Michigan wanted to institute a paid-sick leave policy. Since Jan. 1, 2015, it reported raising $96,344 and spending $11,981.

7) Committee To Ban Fracking wanted, as its name says, to ban fracking. Since Jan. 1, 2015, it reported raising $64,959 and spending $70,936. Having not gathered enough signatures for 2016, it's now focused on a legal challenge and the 2018 ballot.

8) Stop Overcharging wanted to restrict medical pricing. Since Jan. 1, 2015, it reported raising $21,600 and spending $57,238.

9) Let’s Vote Michigan wanted to allow voting by mail. Since Jan. 1, 2015, it reported raising $4,393 and spending $4,323.

10) Abrogate Prohibition Michigan was another proposal to legalize marijuana. Since Jan. 1, 2015, it reported raising $4,079 and spending $3,862.

11) Eliminate (i) wanted to allow companies like Tesla to sell cars directly to customers without having to go through a franchised dealer. Since Jan. 1, 2015, it reported raising $1,170 and spending $1,168. The committee dissolved last month.

* Craig Mauger is the executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Matthew Boak is an MCFN intern and a Central Michigan University student.

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