Top 150 PACs up 24 percent

The state’s top 150 political action committees (PACs) are setting new fundraising records so far in the 2005-2006 election cycle. Through April 20, 2006 the top 150 PACs had raised $23,155,591. That figure is 24.0 percent higher than the $18.7 million the top 150 PACs had raised at this point in the 2003-2004 cycle, and 38.0 percent more than the $16.9 million raised at this point in the 2001-2002 cycle.

"Interest groups are investing more than ever before to move the political process in Lansing," said Rich Robinson of the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network. "Citizens should not be deluded into thinking they're doing so for selfless reasons."

As is customary, the legislative caucuses' PACs are the top fundraisers. Ironically, those are the only state PACs that are subject to contribution limits, which are $20,000 per year. The House Republicans have raised $2,202,00 and have $1,117,000 on hand; the Senate Republicans have raised $1,645,000 and have $1,344,000 on hand; the House Democrats have raised $1,572,000 and have $1,042,000 on hand; and the Senate Democrats have raised $871,000 and have $925,000 on hand.

"The legislative caucus PACs are a bellwether," said Robinson. "Three of them are running 90 percent ahead of last cycle, and the Senate Republicans are up by 40 percent. That is probably the clearest indication of how aggressive the money chase has become."

Governor Jennifer Granholm’s Leadership Fund had raised the most among officeholders’ leadership PACs at $483,000. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s Generations PAC was in second place with $389,900. The Commonwealth PAC, set up to boost the presidential prospects of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, was the third-biggest leadership PAC with $350,000, largely from sources in Utah and Massachusetts.

Reflecting competition to become successor to term-limited Sen. Ken Sikkema as leader of the Senate Republican caucus, Sen. Jason Allen (Traverse City) has raised $203,000 in his two leadership PACs; Sen. Mike Bishop (Rochester Hills) has raised $182,000 in his two PACs; and Sen. Wayne Kuipers (Holland) has raised $169,000. Speaker of the House Craig DeRoche (R-Novi) has raised $157,000, and Lieutenant Governor John Cherry has raised $154,000.

Among the interest groups' PACs, Comcast has made a major new push. After putting only $2,500 in its PAC last election cycle, it has already put $106,000 in its war-chest. After working in concert with the phone companies, the Telecommunications Association and the Cable Telecommunications Association to deregulate Michigan's telecomm industry last year, Comcast is now engaged in a legislative tug-of-war against the new AT&T ($125,000 in its PAC) as the industry leaders fight for broadband market share.

"It appears certain that there will be more money to follow this year than ever before," Robinson noted. "And that money will be pushing the policy agenda in Lansing. We should have limits on the money that individuals and interest groups can dump into these PACs, because without limits we are seeing irresistible forces that are steamrolling the public interest."

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