By CRAIG MAUGER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
CLINTON TWP. — Their campaigns have already combined to bring in about $1 million. Each candidate has accused the other of unethical behavior. And both candidates have raised large chunks of money from individuals tied to businesses they could help employ if elected.
It’s the 2016 race for Macomb County public works commissioner between Democrat Anthony Marrocco and Republican U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, a former secretary of state.
Marrocco, who’s held the public works commissioner post for 24 years, is running for a seventh term. Over his career, he’s been a successful political fundraiser. This election cycle alone, his candidate committee, Citizens for Anthony Marrocco, has reported raising $345,455 as of Aug. 22.
But he’s also connected to large political action committees (PACs). There’s the Marrocco Victory Fund, which had amassed $121,989 as of July 20. And there’s the Independent Voters PAC, which reported $138,354 cash on hand as of July 20.
Over a two-year period from the beginning of 2013 through the end of 2014, the Marrocco-affiliated PACs were two of the top 125 PACs in Michigan, beating out PACs connected to key state lawmakers like then-Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer and then-House Speaker Pro Tem John Walsh.
With the Nov. 8 election more than 50 days away, the Independent Voters PAC has already sent out one mailer in Macomb County attacking Miller.
Public works commissioners are responsible for their counties’ drainage systems, septic systems and drinking water. Marrocco’s fundraising success over the years is just one example of how public officials in this position or in the similar position of drain commissioner in other counties have raised large sums of money from construction companies over which they have regulatory authority or which they could help employ for projects.
In the 2016 calendar year, Marrocco’s campaign committee has reported raising $169,430 total. According to an analysis by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, $100,165 of that haul came from individuals who work in the construction field. Their employers include excavating companies, engineering companies, surveying companies and home builders.
Employees of the engineering firm Hubbell, Roth & Clark contributed $16,000 to Marrocco’s campaign this year. Employees of the engineering consulting firm Metco Services contributed $15,000. And employees of the contracting management company Lakeshore Global contributed $10,000.
But Miller’s campaign for public works commissioner has also received large contributions from individuals in the construction field. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network's analysis, her campaign has garnered $105,700 from individuals who work for a company in construction or a related field.
Miller, who formed her campaign committee for the commissioner job in March, has raised $298,458 total since then. On top of that, she’s also shifted $300,000 from her congressional committee to her commissioner campaign for a total of $598,458.
As of Aug. 22, her committee has $494,760 available to spend on the general election campaign.
Miller’s campaign has received $10,113 from employees of Dan's Excavating, $7,000 from employees of the contracting company D’Agostini & Sons and $4,600 from employees of Mauro Engineering.
With all of that money on hand, the campaigns are expected to spend large sums over the next weeks.
Marrocco has begun running TV ads and, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission, he has reserved about $33,000 in ad time with one Detroit station with more reservations likely yet-to-be disclosed by other stations.
The Independent Voters PAC's new mailer labels Miller “ethically challenged” and alleges, among other things, that she supported a measure in 2003 to make it easier for “lobbyists to send boxes of pizza and other snacks to congressional offices.” The mailer also says Miller was found guilty of an ethics violation while in Congress. The Miller campaign says that finding was walked back by the ethics committee chair.
The PAC mailer itself could present a problem for the Marrocco campaign. If the mailer is an independent expenditure, Stu Sandler, a spokesperson for the Miller campaign, said it could represent illegal coordination between the Marrocco campaign and the PAC, which is affiliated with Marrocco.
Miller's campaign and supporters have already levied complaints against Marrocco for allegedly using government resources to politick and have alleged that Marrocco participates in "pay to play" with contractors.
“Anthony Marrocco can’t find any campaign finance law or election law that he complies with," Sandler said.
Michael Radtke, spokesperson for the Marrocco campaign, called the "pay to play" allegations "disgusting."
"He’s developed a lot of strong relationships with people in the county," Radtke said of Marrocco. "And they support his work on clean water.”
Radtke also said Miller had "flooded" the Macomb County race with money from Washington D.C.