By CRAIG MAUGER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING (AUG. 22, 2018) — A group of 15 Michigan families has already combined to shell out more than $35 million in political contributions ahead of the 2018 midterm election. And Election Day is still more than two months away.
The Michigan Campaign Finance Network examined state fundraising disclosures, federal fundraising disclosures and reports that some groups file with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to determine which Michigan-connected donors have been giving the most since the start of 2017. The numbers don’t include contributions that falls outside of disclosure requirements.
Wealthy individuals who want to spend heavily on campaigns can easily do so. While there are limits on what donors can give directly to candidates, they can give unlimited amounts to independent political action committees (PACs) and other groups that aren’t subject to campaign contribution limits.
For example, Richard M. DeVos, co-founder of Amway, made a $1-million contribution to the Freedom Partners Action Fund in February, according to a federal disclosure. Freedom Partners Action Fund is a super PAC that “supports candidates who promote free markets and a free society,” according to its website. The list of the most active Michigan-connected donors for the mid-term elections includes some perennial political powerhouses, like the DeVos family, and a group of self-funders who bankrolled their own campaigns for public office in 2018.
Four self-funders have made the list of the top 15 Michigan political donors. But three of the four lost in the Aug. 7 primary election. Topping that list is Democratic businessman Shri Thanedar, of Ann Arbor. He made about $10.7 million in political contributions with almost all of that money going to his own campaign for governor.
After Thanedar, the second biggest donor has been West Michigan’s Republican-backing DeVos family. DeVos family members have made about $7.1 million in political donations so far. For the entire 2015-2016 election cycle, the DeVos family was Michigan’s top donor family at about $15.0 million.
Of the 15 families or individuals on the list so far for 2017-2018, 12 of them have a clear preference for GOP causes and candidates.
MCFN examined disclosures filed with the Michigan Secretary of State and the Federal Election Commission. MCFN also tracked IRS filings from the following groups: the Republican Governors Association; the Democratic Governors Association; the Republican Attorneys General Association; the Democratic Attorneys General Association; the Republican State Leadership Committee; the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee; Build A Better Michigan, an account supporting Democrat Gretchen Whitmer for governor; and the Bill Schuette Administration Account, an account tied to Republican Bill Schuette who’s the GOP nominee for governor.
The numbers don’t include giving by corporations connected to the individuals, just contributions from the individuals themselves. The numbers also don’t include giving at the state level in other states.
The following is the list, according to MCFN's tracking. MCFN will update the list later this year.
— Thanedar, an Ann Arbor-based businessman, gave about $10.69 million to his own campaign for governor. He came in third in the Democratic primary race.
— Richard M. DeVos gave $1.0 million to the Freedom Partners Action Fund.
— Dan DeVos gave $300,000 to MIPAC, a PAC that supported Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in his campaign for governor.
— DeVos family members have also contributed about $375,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which works to elect GOP gubernatorial candidates.
— Pensler, a Grosse Pointe Park businessman, chipped in $5 million for his campaign for the U.S. Senate. He lost in the Republican primary.
— Jim Hines, a doctor, and his wife, Martha Hines, provided about $2.6 million in financial support for Jim Hines’ campaign for governor. He came in fourth place in the Republican primary.
— Weiser, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, gave $300,000 to the party’s state committee in October 2017.
— He also gave $200,000 to America First Action, a super PAC that backs candidates “who support the agenda of the Trump-Pence administration.”
— The wide majority of Stryker’s contributions have been made to federal campaigns and PACs.
— He gave $250,000 to the House Majority PAC, which works to elect Democrats to the U.S. House.
— Parfet, a major financial backer of Gov. Rick Snyder, gave $323,540 to Calley Continues Comeback, a Super PAC support Calley for governor.
— He also gave $125,000 to Snyder’s Relentless Positive Action PAC.
— Epstein, whose family runs Vesco Oil, loaned about $990,000 to her U.S. House campaign in the 11th District. She won the Republican primary.
— James Nicholson, chairman of PVS Chemicals, gave $113,600 to MIPAC, a PAC that supported Calley for governor.
— James Nicholson also gave $100,000 to Team Ryan, a joint fundraising committee for U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan.
— The Kennedy family has given $160,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Michigan House.
— John Kennedy, CEO of Autocam, gave $100,000 to Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, a ballot proposal committee that is opposing a redistricting reform measure.
— The family has given about $100,000 to Team Ryan, a joint fundraising committee for U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan.
— Peter Karmanos, chairman of MadDog Technology, gave $250,000 to Better Jobs, Stronger Families, a super PAC supporting Republican Bill Schuette for governor.
— The Moroun family has given $55,000 each to the House Republican Campaign Committee and the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.
— Matthew Moroun, vice chairman of Central Transport, has given $100,000 to the Michigan Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee.
— Roger Penske gave $250,000 to Turnaround Detroit, a super PAC that supported Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s re-election campaign.
— He also gave $250,000 to the Relentless Positive Action PAC, a PAC connected to Gov. Snyder.
— J.M. Jung gave $100,000 to Better Jobs, Stronger Families, a super PAC supporting Republican Bill Schuette for governor.
— Jung gave $75,000 to Team Ryan, a joint fundraising committee for U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan.
— Michael Jandernoa has given $220,000 the Michigan Republican Party.
— The Jandernoa family has given $35,000 to the Republican National Committee.