By CRAIG MAUGER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING (Feb. 21, 2019) — Forty Michigan families and individuals flexed their financial muscle ahead of the 2018 election by spending a combined $56.5 million on political contributions.
While some of their dollars went to races and causes in other states, their total spending amounts to about 18 percent of the $300 million that’s been tracked in Michigan’s 2018 campaigns. Yet, the donors comprise a fraction of 1 percent of Michigan's 10 million people.
Among the 40 families were 10 families who each gave at least $1 million each to candidates, political parties or other political organizations. The top givers were members of West Michigan’s DeVos family, who spent about $11.3 million on political contributions over 2017 and 2018, according to disclosures.
In addition to those 10 families who gave $1 million to others, four candidates gave at least $1 million to their own campaigns. All four lost their races. The top self-funding candidate was Democrat Shri Thanedar of Ann Arbor, who ran for governor and gave a net total of about $10.4 million to his own campaign.
The Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) determined the contribution totals by analyzing fundraising at the state level reported to the secretary of state, fundraising at the federal level reported to the Federal Election Commission and other fundraising by political organizations that file reports with the Internal Revenue Service.
The analyzed contributions occurred between Jan. 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2018. MCFN included some corporate contributions from entities closely connected to the individuals or families in the analysis.
The totals don’t include contributions to nonprofit organizations and other accounts that fall outside disclosure requirements. Non-disclosing groups spent millions of dollars to influence Michigan’s 2018 campaigns.
The disclosures that are available point to the rising power of a small number of donors. In October 2018, The Washington Post reported that 11 donors at the national level had given a combined $1 billion to super PACs, which can accept donations directly from corporations and act independently of candidates. None of those donors were from Michigan.
For 2015 and 2016, the 40 Michigan families and individuals who spent the most on contributions combined to spend $44 million, according to MCFN’s analysis. The 2017-2018 spending total by the 40 biggest spenders is up 27 percent from the 2015-2016 total.
Contributions from 33 of the 40 families or individuals heavily favored Republicans. Four of them, including two self-funding candidates, favored Democrats. Three others focused on ballot proposal campaigns or didn’t have an obvious partisan lean.
The following is a look at the 40 family and individual donors who contributed the most and where some of the money went, according to MCFN’s tracking.
1. DeVos family, Grand Rapids, $11.3 million
The best-known member of the DeVos family may be Betsy DeVos, who became the U.S. secretary of education in 2017. She stopped making political contributions upon taking that office, but other family members, including her husband, Dick DeVos, have continued to write checks. The largest individual contribution was $1 million. Richard M. DeVos Sr. gave that amount to the Freedom Partners Action Fund in February 2018.
2. Shri Thanedar, Ann Arbor, $10.4 million
Thanedar gave a net total of $10.4 million to his unsuccessful campaign for governor. That total doesn’t include $2.3 million that he gave his campaign but later paid back to himself. Thanedar made a handful of other contributions to Democratic causes as well. Thanedar got 17.7 percent of the vote in the August primary election, finishing in third place.
3. Sandy Pensler, Grosse Pointe Park, $5.0 million
A self-funding candidate was also the third most active donor from Michigan. Pensler gave $5 million to his campaign for U.S. Senate. He lost in the Republican primary to John James. Pensler got 45.3 percent of the vote. James got 54.6 percent in the primary before losing in the general election.
4. Jim Hines and family, Saginaw, $2.6 million
Like Pensler, Jim Hines also lost in the 2018 Republican primary. He and his wife, Martha, gave about $2.6 million to his campaign for governor. Hines finished in fourth place for the GOP nomination with 10.9 percent of the vote.
5. Ron and Eileen Weiser, Ann Arbor, $2.1 million
Ron Weiser exercised a different kind of self-funding. Weiser, who founded a real estate investment company, was the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party for the 2018 election. He and his wife, Eileen, spent about $2.1 million supporting GOP causes in 2017 and 2018, including giving $910,000 to Michigan Republican Party accounts.
6. Jon Stryker, Kalamazoo, $1.5 million
Jon Stryker, whose grandfather launched the Stryker Corp., is from Kalamazoo. He primarily gives money to support Democratic causes at the federal level. He uses a New York address on most of his contributions, but on some, a Kalamazoo address is listed, so his total giving is included here. His only state-level contribution appears to be $1,000 given to Jon Hoadley, a Democratic state House candidate.
7. William and Barbara Parfet, Hickory Corners, $1.4 million
William Parfet, retired chairman of MPI Research, was one of the largest financial backers of former GOP governor Rick Snyder. For 2017 and 2018, he gave $323,540 to Calley Continues Comeback, the super PAC that supported Snyder’s lieutenant governor, Brian Calley, in the GOP primary for governor.
8. Moroun family, Grosse Pointe Farms, $1.3 million
The Moroun family runs a major transportation business, and family members have been significant political contributors. Their $1.3-million total includes corporate contributions from businesses tied to them, including $250,000 from the Oakland Financial Corporation to Better Jobs, Stronger Families, a super PAC that supported Schuette for governor.
9. Peter Karmanos, Orchard Lake, $1.1 million
Karmanos, a businessman and Compuware founder, also gave $250,000 to Better Jobs, Stronger Families. Karmanos also co-founded MadDog Technology, which made some corporate contributions.
10. Cotton family, Grosse Pointe Farms, $1.1 million
Members of metro Detorit’s Cotton family contributed to three candidates for governor over 2017 and 2018: Whitmer; Calley; and Schuette.
11. Kennedy family, Grand Rapids, $1.1 million.
John Kennedy of Autocam gave $100,000 to Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, which opposed a ballot proposal on redistricting.
12. Nicholson family, Detroit $1.1 million
James Nicholson, chairman of PVS Chemicals, gave $113,600 to MIPAC, which supported Calley.
13. Lena Epstein, Bloomfield Hills, $1.0 million
Epstein contributed about $1 million to her campaign for U.S. House. She lost in the general election.
14. Roger Penske, Bloomfield Hills, $1.0 million
Roger Penske gave $250,000 to the Relentless Positive Action PAC.
15. Haworth family, Holland, $915,000
Members of the Haworth family gave $160,000 to the caucus committees of the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans. Haworth Inc. also made contributions.
16. Bernstein family, Ann Arbor, Bernstein Law, $911,000
17. Van Andel family, Grand Rapids, $885,000
18. Jandernoa family, Grand Rapids, $795,000
19. Jung family, Novi, $765,000
20. J.C. Huizenga, Grand Rapids, $762,000
21. Kojaian family, Bloomfield Hills, $727,000
Kojaian Properties gave $250,000 to Better Jobs, Stronger Families, which supported Schuette for governor.
22. Edward Levy, Birmingham, $671,000
23. Cappo and family, Ann Arbor, $636,000
24. Mohammad and Farhat Qazi, Southfield, $598,000
25. Secchia family, Grand Rapids, $573,000
26. Lipton family, Huntington Woods, $570,000*
Ellen Cogen Lipton gave about $538,000 to her unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. House.
27. Meijer family, Grand Rapids, $567,000
Meijer family members gave $195,000 to the Meijer PAC.
28. Terri Lynn Land and Dan Hibma, Byron Center, $450,000
29. Joel Jacob, West Bloomfield, $405,000
30. Samona Family, Troy, Smoker’s Outlet, $403,000
31. Sharif Hussein, Grand Ledge, $402,000
32. Schostak family, Livonia, $393,841
33. Young family, Ypsilanti, $357,000
34. Williams family, Commerce Township, $355,000
35. Kevin McCaffery, Ann Arbor, $350,000
36. Ford family, Detroit, $328,000
37. Taubman family, Bloomfield Hills, $311,000
38. Holly Hughes, Montague, $310,000
39. Adderley family, Bloomfield HIlls, $307,000
40. Beznos family, Farmington, $305,000
* NOTE: Ellen Cogen Lipton is a member of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network’s board. She stepped down from the board during her campaign for the U.S. House.