By CRAIG MAUGER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
Political action committees (PACs) that seek to influence lawmakers and sway Michigan voters raised more than $22.6 million in 2015 with $20.1 million of that total by the 150 most active committees.
All of that fundraising came during a off-year. And while 2014 saw a gubernatorial race and State Senate races that won’t be on the ballot this year, 2015 PAC fundraising wasn’t far off the pace of 2013.
In 2013, the top 150 PACs raised $22.2 million. So despite the fact that the upcoming election will focus mostly on the battle for the State House, the drop-off in 2015 was only about $2.1 million — or about 9 percent.
About 650 PACs have filed year-end disclosures for 2015 with the Secretary of State’s Office since the reporting deadline of Feb. 1.
The top three fundraising committees in 2015 were legislative caucus committees. The House Republican Campaign Committee raised $1.7 million. The Senate Republican Campaign Committee raised $1.1 million. And the Michigan House Democratic Fund raised $1.0 million. Both the House Republicans and the House Democrats raised more money in 2015 than they did in 2013.
The fourth biggest fundraiser was the PAC for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, which raised $609,931. That’s more than the Michigan Senate Democratic Fund, which raised $580,849.
In sixth place was the Michigan Realtors PAC, which raised $516,612 in 2015. In seventh was the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers State PAC, which raised $497,586. In eighth was the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters PAC, which raised $422,557.
Next, in ninth, was Powering the Economy, a Super PAC tied to the Detroit Regional Chamber, which raised $417,613. Rounding out the top 10 was Health PAC, a PAC for the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, which raised $389,781. Those 10 committees alone raised $7.3 million in 2015, according to their year-end campaign-finance reports.
Super PACs, also known as independent expenditure committees, support or oppose candidates through spending that’s supposed to be independent of the candidates. Unlike other committees, Super PACs can receive corporate and union treasury funds. Eleven Super PACs were on the top 150 list for 2015.
Meekhof In A League Of His Own In Lawmaker PAC Fundraising
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) had not just one but two PACs tied to him in the top 25 in fundraising in 2015.
Moving Michigan Forward Fund II finished in 16th place at $324,811 in 2015. While its sister committee, the Moving Michigan Forward Fund finished in 21st place at $312,165. Part of the reason for that was Meekhof moved $200,000 from the Moving Michigan Forward Fund to Moving Michigan Forward Fund II during the year. Still, no other lawmaker had a PAC among the top 35 fundraisers.
Combined the two Meekhof-connected PACs raised $636,976, including the $200,000 that was moved from one of the committees to the other.
The top contributors to Moving Michigan Forward II included the Beer & Wine Wholesalers PAC, which gave the committee $9,200 during the year and Rep. Al Pscholka’s (R-Stevensville) Pscholka Results PAC, which gave $8,500.
The top contributors to Moving Michigan Forward included DeVos family members, who gave a combined $25,000, and the Michigan Chamber PAC, which gave $10,000.
There were 26 PACs on the 150 list for 2015 that were directly tied to individual state lawmakers.
Among the most active were Rep. Mike Callton’s (R-Nashville) Callton Action Fund, which raised $143,350, House Speaker Kevin Cotter’s (R-Mt. Pleasant) Vision for Victory, which raised $130,625, and House Speaker Pro Tem Tom Leonard’s (R-DeWitt) Michigan Values Leadership Fund, which raised $114,750.
Many Major Players From 2014 Have Moved On
Comparing the 2015 top PAC list to the 2013-2014 list shows that many of the largest players from the previous election have gone dark in Michigan.
The comparison demonstrates how Super PACs can easily form in Michigan, spend a $1 million or more on a race and then move on.
For instance, 13 of the top 25 PACs from the 2013-2014 cycle aren’t on the top 150 list for 2015. Those 13 PACs — 11 of which were Super PACs — raised $19 million last cycle. However, in 2015, five of the 13 dissolved, and the other eight combined to raise just $18,274.29.
Those that dissolved were the Republican Governors Association Michigan PAC, Michigan For All (Super PAC), NextGen Climate Action MI (Super PAC), SEIU Community Alliance MI (Super PAC) and National Nurses United for Patient Protection Michigan (Super PAC).
You can view the full list of the top 150 PACs ranked by 2015 fundraising through a link that's above right.
* Photo credit: Official photo of Sen. Arlan Meekhof from www.senatorarlanmeekhof.com.