By THE MICHIGAN CAMPAIGN FINANCE NETWORK
LANSING (April 25, 2019) — State lawmakers often say there’s separation between their votes on major bills and their political fundraising efforts. Sometimes, that separation is less than two blocks.
Elected state officeholders who served in 2018 disclosed having at least 774 fundraisers during the year, according to an analysis of hundreds of campaign finance disclosures. The most popular places to raise money were all within walking distance of the Capitol, and the wide majority of the most popular days for fundraisers were days the Legislature was also in session.
The numbers shine light on the common Lansing practice of lawmakers moving directly from fundraisers where they receive checks from interest groups to committee hearings, votes or other legislative responsibilities.
Take for instance Sept. 5, 2018.
That day, the Legislature approved initiatives to increase the minimum wage and to institute paid sick leave standards. Lawmakers' approval of the proposals, which were before them because of statewide petition campaigns, made it easier for lawmakers to gut the laws a few months later.
State officeholders or their caucuses reported having 10 fundraisers on Sept. 5. Eight of them occurred in buildings that were within three blocks of the Capitol, according to disclosures.
Among the fundraisers were a reception that drew 100 people to a banquet room owned by a lobbying firm to support the Senate Republican Campaign Committee and a breakfast event at the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers’ headquarters to benefit then-House Appropriations Chair Laura Cox’s campaign.
Then-Sen. Marty Knollenberg also had a fundraiser on Sept 5. His event occurred at the headquarters of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, according to his disclosure. The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association was one of the groups fighting the ballot drive to increase the minimum wage. Knollenberg lost his 2018 re-election bid.
Knollenberg, a restaurant owner himself, said fundraisers like his are usually scheduled well in advance and it was coincidental that the votes and the event happened on the same day. Knollenberg said he supports a lot of the restaurant association's issues but not all of them.
"There's only a handful of places to hold fundraisers," he added.*
The Michigan Campaign Finance Network tallied nine days where there were at least 10 fundraisers for sitting officeholders in 2018, according to disclosures. Of the nine, eight were also days the Legislature was scheduled to be in session.
There were three days where there were 12 disclosed fundraisers for sitting officeholders. They were Oct. 12, which wasn’t a day the Legislature was scheduled to be in session, and March 14 and Oct. 17, which were session days.
A chronological listing of all the fundraisers MCFN tracked in 2018 is available at this link.
MCFN included fundraisers for state officeholders’ campaigns, fundraisers for political action committees (PACs) tied to individual officeholders and fundraisers for the four caucus committees, which raise money on behalf of the House Republicans, House Democrats, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats.
The officeholders included were 2018 state House members, 2018 state Senate members, then-Gov. Rick Snyder, then-Attorney General Bill Schuette, then-Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and then-Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.
Overall, the number of fundraisers reported in 2018 was up significantly compared to previous years. MCFN tallied 774 fundraisers for sitting officeholders in 2018. In 2017, the tracked total was 601. In 2016, the total was just 439.
The increased fundraising is likely one of the reasons Michigan’s 2018 election was the most expensive in state history overall. The 2018 campaigns for both the state House and state Senate were the most expensive in state history as well.
While there were more fundraisers in 2018, the nature of the fundraising was also different.
Unlike past years, the wide majority of the fundraisers in 2018 happened outside of Lansing. Of the 774 fundraisers disclosed, only 233 of them — about 30 percent — happened in Lansing on days the Legislature was in session.
In 2017, 282 of the 601 disclosed fundraisers — or about 47 percent — happened in Lansing on days the Legislature was in session.
Then-Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and then-Attorney General Bill Schuette, who were both running for governor in 2018, were the most active fundraisers among elected officeholders. Their events happened all over Michigan.
Schuette, the Republican nominee for governor who also was the state’s top law-enforcement officer, disclosed having 107 fundraisers in 2018 alone. That’s an average of about one fundraiser every three days leading up to the election. Democrat Gretchen Whitmer defeated Schuette.
Calley, who lost to Schuette in the GOP primary, reported having 60 fundraisers.
Among lawmakers, then-House Speaker Tom Leonard, the GOP nominee for attorney general, had the most disclosed fundraisers at 26. On the Democratic side of the aisle, then-Rep. Winnie Brinks, a successful candidate for the state Senate, had the most disclosed fundraisers at 22.
The four most common places to have fundraisers were all within a short walk of the Capitol, where the House and Senate convene.
The Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers’ headquarters at 332 Townsend St. — two blocks from the Capitol — hosted at least 64 fundraisers for sitting officeholders in 2018. According to the group’s website, its building includes the “Hop & Vine Room,” which it allows lawmakers to rent for fundraisers.
In an email, Spencer Nevins, president of the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, said the organization is proud to be an active participant in the political process.
“We are pleased our meeting space has been so well-received by legislators and staff on both sides of the aisle as a place to break bread and discuss the issues of the day,” Nevins said.
After the Hop & Vine Room, the multi-client lobbying firm Karoub Associates’ Governors Room was the next most popular fundraising destination. The Governors Room, 121 W. Allegan St., which Karoub describes as Lansing’s “premier legislative reception facility,” is also located close to the Capitol. It hosted at least 50 fundraisers for sitting officeholders in 2018.
(MCFN’s Executive Director Craig Mauger and Charles Carpenter contributed to this report. The image in the map of downtown Lansing came from Ingham County.)
* This portion of the report was added after initial publication when Knollenberg returned a request for a comment.