LANSING - The 2014 campaigns for Michigan's constitutional executive officers exceeded $72 million according to reports filed with the Michigan Bureau of Elections and advertising records compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network from the public files of state broadcasters and cable systems.
The gubernatorial contest between incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and his Democratic challenger Mark Schauer cost more than $63 million. The candidates' campaign committees accounted for just 34.5% of that total. Gov. Snyder, whose campaign started with a fund balance of $1.4 million, raised $13.1 million over the past four years. Mark Schauer's campaign raised $7.3 million, including $990,000 from the state's public campaign fund. Schauer's public funds were earned as a two-to-one match for contributions up to $100 from individual donors.
Committees that were at least nominally independent from the candidates spent $41.3 million. Independent expenditures that were reported to the Michigan Bureau of Elections were a fraction of the third-party spending. Reported independent expenditures supporting Gov. Snyder totaled just $380,000. Reported independent spending supporting Mark Schauer totaled $5.7 million.
The greatest share of the third-party spending came in the form of candidate-focused television advertising that did not explicitly direct viewers how to vote. Such advertising is not considered to be a campaign expenditure under Michigan law, so it is mostly unreported to the State, as are the donors who pay for the advertising.
The independent advertisers supporting Gov. Snyder were the Republican Governors Association (RGA), $10.4 million; the Michigan Republican Party, $5.7 million; and Independence USA PAC, $2.7 million.
The RGA is a 527 committee that reports its receipts and expenditures to the Internal Revenue Service, although Michigan campaign activity is not explicitly broken out. Independence USA PAC is a federal superPAC funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that reports its receipts and expenditures to the Federal Election Commission. The Michigan Republican Party did not report any television spending for governor to the Bureau of Elections.
Mark Schauer's unreported independent spending support came from the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), $15.4 million; the National Education Association (NEA), $750,000; and the Michigan Nurses Association, $180,000.
The NEA and the labor superPAC Workers Voice reported $1.2 million of television spending to the Bureau of Elections.
"What most Michiganders saw of the gubernatorial campaign was television advertising, and most of that advertising was not reported to the State of Michigan," said Rich Robinson of the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network. "That created a $41 million accountability gap in this campaign."
"That matters because transparency is the public's inoculation against corruption," Robinson said.
Incumbent Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette had a wide financial advantage in his campaign against Democratic challenger Mark Totten. Schuette's campaign committee had $4 million, compared to $844,000 for Totten. Independent spending also favored Schuette, $2.6 million to $470,000. In all, it was a $7.9 million campaign.
Most of Schuette's independent spending support came in the form of television advertising by the Michigan Advocacy Trust (MAT), a 527 committee operated by Lansing attorney Richard McLellan. MAT spent $2.6 for ads about Schuette and his opponent. None of that spending, or donors' identities, was reported publicly to the State of Michigan or the IRS.
Several committees did report making independent expenditures supporting Schuette that totaled $10,647.
Totten's independent spending support came in the form of unreported television advertising sponsored by the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee in the amount of $470,000.
As in the gubernatorial campaign, the most visible part of the AG campaign was television advertising and the majority of that advertising for both candidates was undisclosed.
"Again, the lack of transparency is troubling," said MCFN's Robinson. "The public should be able to evaluate how campaign finance support factors into prosecutorial discretion, but that's not possible when campaign support is dark money. This lack of transparency in the campaign for our top law enforcement officer is contemptuous of the citizens of this state."
Secretary of State
Incumbent Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson had a considerable campaign finance advantage over her Democratic challenger Godfrey Dillard, $977,000 to $172,000. Reported independent spending supporting Secretary Jonson by Right to Life state PAC and the Macomb, Kent and Midland County Republican Committees totaled $3,877. Independent spending by the Detroit Forward superPAC supporting Mr. Dillard totaled $48,350
This report was updated to include independent expenditures that were first reported in February 2015.