LANSING - Michigan's top 150 political action committees (PACs) collectively raised more than $68 million in the period from January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2014, smashing the previous record of $51.9 million for a corresponding list of state PACs that had stood since the 2006 election cycle.
The 2014 election cycle was the first in which superPACs - independent-expenditure committees that are free to accept union and corporate treasury funds - were a major presence on the list of top PACs. Thirty-two of the top 150 PACs in 2014 were superPACs, including 20 of the top 40.
In 2010, the year in which superPACs had been legalized by the Citizens United and SpeechNow decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, only two superPACs made the list of the 150 biggest Michigan state PACs. In 2012, when ballot committees were dominating state political spending, 11 superPACs were among the top 150 state PACs.
The RGA Michigan PAC was nominally the biggest PAC in the 2014 cycle at $4,688,934. However, the PAC returned $4.2 million to its parent organization, the Republican Governors Association. The parent organization, in turn, was deeply involved in Michigan's 2014 gubernatorial campaign, spending more than $10 million for television advertisements touting Gov. Rick Snyder.
State reports missed other significant activity. Independence USA PAC, a federal PAC funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that did not register as a state PAC, spent $2.7 million in 2014 for television advertisements supporting Gov. Snyder. And while the Democratic Governors Association had a Michigan state PAC that raised $137,500, its parent organization spent more than $15 million for television advertisements that were not reported to the State.
Several characteristics stand out in regard to the superPACs. First is the fact that they can, and do, become a huge presence very quickly. Of the 32 superPACs on the list of the top 150 state PACs, 18 were newly established in Michigan in the 2014 cycle, including 13 of the 20 that were among the top 40 PACs.
Another new aspect of superPACs was the emergence of single-candidate superPACs. This mirrors the phenomenon of single-candidate superPACs on the federal level. Turnaround Detroit, which backed Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in his 2013 campaign, Detroit Forward, which backed Duggan's opponent, Benny Napoleon, and Turn Around Wayne County, which backed new Wayne County Executive Warren Evans in 2014, are examples of single-candidate superPACs.
In addition, it is clear that there is a high degree of coordination among some superPACs in their independent expenditures. There was a great deal of churning of funds between, and among, labor superPACs and progressive organizations' superPACs.
Officeholders' Leadership PACs
New Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) had the largest single officeholder's leadership PAC, and the top network of leadership PACs. Meekhof's Moving Michigan Forward Fund raised $530,093, his Moving Michigan Forward Fund II raised $236,051 and his Arlan Meekhof State Senate PAC raised $33,791, for an overall total of $799,935. Multiple leadership accounts are established so the controlling member can support candidates with more than the maximum contribution allowed from a single committee.
Other officeholders who commanded major leadership PACs included Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco, $389,949 (two committees); Senate Democratic Leader Jim Ananich, $355,566 (two committees); House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel, $354,433; new Sen. Mike Shirkey, $269,011; new House Appropriations Chairman Al Pscholka, $251,390; former House Speaker Jase Bolger, $248,111; and former Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, $211,975.
New Speaker Kevin Cotter raised $163,300 in his Vision for Victory Fund, and Gov. Rick Snyder raised $50,025 in his One Tough Nerd PAC.
Independent Expenditures Hidden by Poor Disclosure Law
All PACs except those controlled by the four legislative caucuses filed their first reports since October on February 17th. They closed books on February 10th and filed reports covering the period since October 20th.
The February filings contained the first reports of more than $3 million of independent expenditures that were made to steer voters in the November 2014 election. Those reports came more than 100 days too late for voters to consider who was paying for the messages that were defining the candidates. An additional $1,010,000 in independent expenditures was reported in post-general reports filed last December, and another $490,000 in January 2015 quarterly reports.
The irony about all this tardy disclosure is that it would not have been permissible in a special election. Section 33(5) of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act requires committees that make independent expenditures within 45 days of a special election to disclose their spending within 48 hours of making their expenditure. That same standard should apply to all independent expenditures that are made after pre-election reports are filed in October.