By THE MICHIGAN CAMPAIGN FINANCE NETWORK
LANSING (Aug. 22, 2019) — A top legislative staffer once advised a Michigan lawmaker that the “big money” in Lansing flows from political action committees (PACs) and other interest groups that keep scorecards tracking lawmakers’ votes.
New campaign finance disclosures back up that notion.
About 66 percent of the money that Michigan’s 148 state lawmakers have reported raising for their campaigns so far this year has come from PACs, which are fundraising committees connected to businesses, unions, politicians and other interest groups that aim to influence what happens in Lansing.
Meanwhile, only about 28 percent of the money lawmakers have raised for their campaigns has come directly from individual donors instead of going through a PAC first.
The Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) analyzed lawmakers’ newest campaign disclosures to arrive at these numbers. The disclosures, which were due on July 25, 2019, covered from Nov. 27, 2018, through July 20, 2019.
During that period, the campaigns of Michigan’s 148 lawmakers combined to raise $3.04 million, a total that doesn't include past spending by the campaigns that was refunded. Of the total, $2.02 million came from PACs (You can see MCFN's research here).
Currently, there are more than 900 active PACs in Michigan. Those PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money from donors and then distribute the money directly to candidates. While there are limits on how much PACs can give to candidates for specific offices, the PACs’ giving limits are 10 times more than individuals’ giving limits.
An individual donor in Michigan can now give a candidate for the state House no more than $1,050 in the two years before a House election. A PAC can give $10,500.
An individual donor can give a candidate for the state Senate no more than $2,100 in the four years before a Senate election. A PAC can give $21,000.
Among the PACs that have reported spending the most money so far in 2019 are the PACs of insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan ($411,956), the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters ($311,667), the Michigan Realtors ($232,684), utility DTE Energy ($220,600) and the Michigan Health & Hospital Association ($213,712).
Of the 148 state lawmakers, 46 received at least 90 percent of their fundraised dollars from PACs between Nov. 27, 2018, and July 20, 2019, MCFN’s analysis of campaign finance disclosures found.
The 10 lawmakers who received the highest percentage of campaign dollars from PACs are listed below.
Some lawmakers have relied more heavily on individual donors. So far in 2019, 20 lawmakers have received at least 50 percent of their campaign dollars from individual donors (not including self-funding from lawmakers themselves).
As of July 20, 2019, the lawmakers who received the largest number of contributions from individuals this year were Brownstown Township Democratic Rep. Darrin Camilleri (345 contributions from individuals), Farmington Hills Democratic Rep. Chris Greig (322) and Scio Township Democratic Rep. Donna Lasinski (239).
The 10 lawmakers who received the highest percentage of campaign dollars from individual donors are listed below.
This analysis only looks at fundraising by lawmakers’ campaigns. Many lawmakers also raise additional dollars through their own personal PACs.
As The Detroit News has noted, the influence of PACs in Michigan has been in the spotlight this summer as Rep. Larry Inman, a Republican from Williamsburg, faces charges of bribery and extortion. Inman allegedly attempted to solicit campaign money from a group of PACs connected to labor groups ahead of a key vote on whether to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law. Inman eventually voted to repeal the law, which set wage standards for certain publicly-funded construction projects. Inman is fighting the charges.
According to documents that have been made public in the case, Dan Pero, chief of staff for then-House Speaker Tom Leonard, exchanged text messages with Inman about political fundraising before the vote. Inman said that people in his district don’t “write large political checks.”
“The big money is the PAC community and the independent groups who keep the scorecards,” Pero replied.
Inman responded, “True, the PACs in Lansing at least give me ($)200 to ($)500 at an event.”
MCFN will continue to monitor how lawmakers are raising their campaign dollars. MCFN maintains a donor-tracking page that lists the top contributors to state lawmakers across their various fundraising accounts.