By SIMON D. SCHUSTER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING (Feb. 7, 2020) — The Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren tout their campaigns as grassroots movements. In 2019, 56% of Sanders' funding came from small donors giving $200 or less, and among all the Democratic candidates it's 24% of the fundraising. Small donors contributing $200 or less also made up about 16% of President Donald Trump's financial support as of October, totaling nearly $97 million.
Those races have the benefit of exorbitant national attention. In Lansing, though, the contrast could not be more stark. In Michigan's legislature, small donations contributed just 6% of the $18.3 million raised, about $1 million.
Political action committees (PACs) and large donors once again dominated the Michigan legislature’s fundraising activities this past year. They represented 76% of the money raised by candidates, their associated PACs and caucuses according to data analyzed by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
For individual House candidates facing an election in 2020 the composition of their funding varied wildly. Use the interactive graphic below to explore the sources of their funding for both incumbents and challengers. Hover over bars to for more information. (Report contiues after the break.)
Note: only active candidates/legislators who reported receiving donations in 2019 will appear in this graphic.
Democratic candidates, with $2.68 million, outraised Republicans by just $67,000. As the data shows, individual donations made up a significantly larger portion of their funding.
Individuals can donate a maximum of just $1,050 and $2,100 directly to House and Senate candidates, respectively. However, an “independent committee” can donate 10 times that amount. Caucus PACs — there’s one for each party in both chambers of the legislature — can donate unlimited amounts.
Independent PACs can take as much money as they’d like, while caucus PAC contributions are limited to $41,975 per person in an election cycle. Enlisting family members can make that easy to get around.
Many legislators have established “leadership PACs,” independent PACs which allow them to distribute larger donations to themselves and other candidates. The largest of these are three PACs associated the Speaker of the House, Lee Chatfield (R-Levering). The aptly-named Chatfield Majority Fund, Chatfield Majority 2 and Chatfield Majority Fund 3 collectively raised $951,000, an unprecedented amount for a single legislator in an off-year. Having three PACs means effectively tripling the contribution limit.
In leadership and caucus PACs overall Republicans blew Democrats away, raising a total of $8.2 million to Democrats’ $2.9 million. And though the Senate is not facing an election, they raised considerable cash in throughout 2019. The chart below illustrates the breakdown.
Big donors who contributed $10,000 or more also made a significant difference. Just 56 individuals giving exclusively to Republicans provided nearly $2.6 million to leadership and caucus PACs. Democrats had just six donors of that size contributing $129,000. Ignoring partisan ties, 77 major donors made up 18% of all legislative funding in 2019.
Peter Secchia, who gave $205,000 to state Republican candidates and PACs in 2019, implied he would "diminish" donations if the legislature did not act on erosion on the Lake Michigan shoreline that threatened his properties, The Detroit News reported today. He and his wife make up one of just ten families who each collectively gave more than $100,000, who in total contributed about $2.1 million.
|The Top Ten Families Donating in 2019|
|3||John & Nancy Kennedy||$206,950.00|
|4||Peter & Joan Secchia||$205,050.00|
|6||Ron & Eileen Weiser||$175,950.00|
|8||Bill & Vivenne Young||$130,100.00|