Billionaire spends liberally on state politics

Analysis

This article is based upon information from the Secretary of State’s office that a billionaire, John Stryker, is providing millions of dollars for State House races in Michigan. The Political Action Committee that has been receiving money from Stryker is the Coalition for Progress, a PAC for the Democratic Party. The article states that Mr. Stryker has also donated money to influence elections in Colorado as well. The story cites a representative from the Coalition for Progress, two Republicans, one Democrat, a consultant for the GOP and Rich Robinson with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Does the article adequately look at the larger issue of how money influences politics? Rich Robinson with the MCFN released a statement when this story came out that is worth considering in relation to money in politics.

Article Text

Dick DeVos may have met his financial match.

A Kalamazoo billionaire and his organization are pouring millions of dollars into commercials opposing Republicans, including the wealthy DeVos, of Ada Township.

The cartoonish ads depict gubernatorial candidate DeVos sending jobs to China and show other Republicans allowing Canadian trash into the state and protecting drug companies against lawsuits.

Republicans accuse the group of holding an ultra-liberal agenda and putting an unprecedented amount of money into legislative races. Democrats say fair is fair, especially since DeVos has given so much money to his own campaign against Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

“Certainly it’s disingenuous for Republicans to be complaining about someone of wealth supporting campaigns,” said Granholm spokesman Chris DeWitt. “Historically speaking, it’s the millionaires and billionaires of our country who have been propping up the Republican Party.”

The commercials are funded by Jon Stryker and his Michigan’s Coalition for Progress. The group has raised $5.2 million, according to reports filed Wednesday with the Michigan Secretary of State.

The bulk — $4.6 million — came from Stryker, whose wealth from his family’s medical supply business is estimated by Forbes magazine at $1.8 billion. Another $500,000 came from his sister, Pat Stryker, of Colorado.

The third largest donor was John Hunting, heir to the Steelcase fortune. Hunting gave $20,000.

In comparison, DeVos is estimated to have spent in excess of $20 million already on his own campaign for governor and has given millions to other Republican causes.

The Coalition for Progress has purchased $163,000 in advertising in the Grand Rapids cable market — 2,781 ads airing at near-saturation levels between the beginning of September and Election Day.

The group’s TV and radio spots target at least 10 competitive districts involving GOP incumbents, including Rep. David Farhat of Fruitport and Sens. Tom George of Portage, Laura Toy of Livonia and Gerald Van Woerkom of Norton Shores.

None of the advertising will be aimed specifically at Grand Rapids-area legislative races, said Kerry Ebersole, the group’s executive director. “We don’t have any focused communications right now in those Grand Rapids seats,” she said.

The one exception was $180 doled out to run automated calls last month against Republican state House candidate Tim Doyle of Grand Rapids.

Ebersole said the Coalition for Progress is focused on jobs and the economy, affordable health care, good schools and a clean environment.

Republicans say the group is ultraliberal and extremist, and wants to buy a Democratic-led Legislature that will legalize gay marriage. They cite Stryker’s prior campaign donations and his founding of the Arcus Foundation, which supports gay rights causes and gives money to gay and lesbian candidates.

Pat Stryker helped bankroll a similar effort in 2004 that is credited with helping Democrats take back both the Colorado House and Senate for the first time in 42 years.

“It played a huge factor two years ago,” Bryant Adams, spokesman for the Colorado Republican Party, says of the $1.6 million poured into legislative races by Pat Stryker and three other wealthy activists. “It’s tough sledding when you’re going against people who have that kind of money.”

Michigan Republicans remain confident they’ll maintain control of the 38-seat Senate, theirs since 1984, and the 110-seat House, which they’ve held since 1999. But they also see the Coalition for Progress as a threat warranting attention as the campaign season heads into its final week and a half.

Bill Nowling, a Republican political consultant, called the Stryker fund “an unprecedented amount of money, at least in Michigan legislative races.”

“I think given the environment that we’re in now, it makes it tremendously hard for Republican legislative candidates to compete and get their message out,” said Nowling. “Now they’ve got their opponent, the Democratic Party, and they’ve got Stryker.

Stryker is “out of step” and “has an agenda that is very left-wing, and his ads don’t even focus on that agenda,” said state Rep. Jerry Kooiman, R-Grand Rapids, who is leaving the Legislature because of term limits. “My question to the House Democrat leadership is, What are you going to owe this guy?”

Ebersole said the GOP complaints are meant to obscure the dismal Republican record in Michigan. “We’re talking about records,” she said. “They’re talking about us.”

Rich Robinson of the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network noted there are no limits on how much political action committees can receive or spend in the state, as long as the money is reported.

Individuals can give no more than $3,400 each to campaigns. But forming independent PACs is a legal way to get around the limit.

The Coalition represents a sizable fund, Robinson said.

“For the last election cycle, the House Republican campaign committee raised just over $3 million. No other PAC had over $2 million. That would put this in a very elite portion of the stratosphere.”

Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land was helped in 2002 when her husband, Dan Hibma, gave $540,000 to a PAC that made independent expenditures supporting Land’s campaign. Greektown entrepreneurs Jim Papas and Ted Gatzoros gave $910,000 to a PAC backing former Gov. Jim Blanchard in his failed 2002 gubernatorial primary bid.

But those campaigns were for statewide offices, Robinson said, not individual legislative races that usually attract far less money.

“Does this offset the normal fund-raising advantage the caucus PACs have on the Republican side? I don’t know,” Robinson said.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org