By CRAIG MAUGER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING (Aug. 5, 2019) — After an election that saw record spending, you would expect the fundraising of Michigan’s largest interest groups and lawmakers to slow down. But that hasn’t happened yet.
The top 150 political action committees (PACs) in the state reported raising $13.9 million from Jan. 1, 2019, through July 20, 2019. That total marked a 14-percent increase over what the top 150 PACs raised over the same period before the record 2018 election.
In 2018, Michigan voters elected a new governor, a new attorney general, a new secretary of state and 38 state senators. Those races won’t happen again until 2022. The upcoming 2020 election will focus on the state House and seats on the Michigan Supreme Court.
So, why is the fundraising pace at this point in the two-year 2020 election cycle beating the pace for the 2018 election cycle? The main reasons lie in the state Legislature, where committees connected to state lawmakers are raising more money than they have before.
The four caucus committees — the main fundraising groups connected to the House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans — have combined to raise $4.5 million so far in 2019. Over the same time period in 2017, they raised just $3.1 million.
Then, there’s the growing trend of lawmakers raising large sums of money through their own personal PACs. These PACs are often referred to as leadership PACs. But state law treats them no differently than a PAC connected to a business or a labor union. They can accept unlimited contributions from donors.
Between Jan. 1, 2019, and July 20, 2019, 12 PACs connected to individual state lawmakers raised at least $50,000. Over the same time period in 2017, only seven raised more than $50,000.
So-called leadership PACs have been active for decades in Michigan. However, disclosures show that in recent years, more lawmakers are using them, and they’re using them to raise more money than ever before. Lawmakers give the money they raise through their own PACs to support political parties and like-minded candidates.
Between Jan. 1, 2011, and July 20, 2011, the top PAC connected to a lawmaker raised just $127,250. The PAC belonged to then-Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. Over the same time period eight years later, four PACs connected to lawmakers raised more than $127,250.
The most active leadership PAC so far in 2019 belonged to House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Republican from Levering. The Chatfield Majority Fund 2 raised $211,475. He also had two other PACs that each raised at least $50,000. The Chatfield Majority Fund raised $145,650, making it the second most active leadership PAC overall. And the Chatfield Majority Fund 3 raised $58,820.
Because Chatfield has three PACs, state campaign finance law allows each of them to make maximum contributions to individual candidates and caucuses. If he had just one PAC, it could give only $41,975 per year to the House Republican Campaign Committee. But because he has three, his PACs can combine to give $125,925 per year.
The Chatfield Majority Fund 2 received $50,000 from former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser, and $41,975 from Paola Luptak, a partner in the Beztak Companies, a national real estate development firm.
After Chatfield’s PAC, House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Wentworth, a Republican from Clare, had the most active PAC. Wentworth is expected by many to be the next House Republican leader. Some donors seem to agree as his Wentworth Majority Fund raised $131,700 from Jan. 1, 2019, through July 20, 2019.
The PAC’s top donors were Sharif Hussein, chief strategy officer for the business technology company CNSI, who gave $15,000, and Matthew Moroun, president of Central Transport, who gave $12,500.
The top PAC connected to a Democratic member of the Legislature was Rep. Donna Lasinski’s Lasinski for Michigan PAC. It raised $84,400 from Jan. 1, 2019, through July 20, 2019.
Many in Lansing see Lasinski, a Democrat from Scio Township, as a contender to be the next House Democratic leader. Her PAC’s top donors were the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, which gave $5,500, the Operating Engineers Local 324, which gave $5,000, and the Michigan Laborers Political League, which also gave $5,000.
Because Michigan’s contribution limits are now tied to inflation, the limit for what a donor can give per year to a caucus committee increased in 2019 from $40,000 to $41,975. Some donors have already taken advantage of the new limit.
The House Republican Campaign Committee attracted the most money overall and the most contributions at the new limit. The committee reported raising $1.6 million so far in 2019. Over the same period in 2017, the committee raised just $1.1 million.
Its top donors were Ron and Eileen Weiser, who gave $83,950, John and Nancy Kennedy, of the company Autocam, who gave $83,950, and members of the Cotton family, of the Health Plan of Michigan, who gave $65,000.
The House Democratic Fund raised $926,044 by July 20, 2019. Its top donors were Ted Snowdon of Ted Snowdon Productions, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and the Future Now Fund. Each gave $40,000.
The House Republican Campaign Committee has a large advantage in cash available at this point ahead of the 2020 election. The committee reported having $1.6 million still available on July 20, 2019. The House Democratic Fund reported having just $376,381 available.
The Senate Republican Campaign Committee’s top donors were John and Nancy Kennedy, of Autocam, who gave $80,000, and Heather and Ronnie Boji, of the Boji Group, who gave $50,000. The Senate Democratic Fund’s top donors were Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich’s Ananich Senate Majority Fund and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. Each gave $40,000.