By SIMON D. SCHUSTER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING (July 31, 2020) — There’s a strong fundraising culture in Lansing. Legislators are regularly hosted by a lobbying firm at an office or restaurant. Often from $100 to $500 a ticket, guests representing any number of special interests get the opportunity to schmooze with the elected official for an hour or two.
That’s the price of access, and it’s built on face-to-face interaction. So when a global pandemic and stay-at-home order kept lobbyists from work and forced restaurants to shutter, that campaign donation mill went on hiatus.
From the last week of March through the end of May, campaign finance data from the Secretary of State shows PACs gave less than half of what they did to Michigan House candidates during that same period in the last two presidential election years, 2016 and 2010. It's a stark difference.
From the last week in March through the end of May this year, PACs gave a little more than $276,000. In 2016 that total was $765,000 and in 2012 it was $613,000. It underscores just how vital these casual mixers are for legislators' campaign coffers in an election year, where they often enjoy a cash advantage and primary challengers rarely succeed.
All incumbent legislators rely on PAC money to retain their seats. About 60% of all the money raised by Michigan House members seeking reelection in 2020 has come from PACs, while for new candidates it’s about 15%.
Despite an initial slowdown, the lockdown had little effect on individual donations. Grassroots funding took a comparatively small hit and donations larger than $200 actually increased, perhaps an indication of the unequal economic impact the pandemic has had on Michiganders.
Once the stay-at-home order ended June 1, that contribution machine kept right on rolling and has even made up for lost time. According to the most recent filings, Michigan House fundraising is exactly where it was four years ago.