New Campaign Finance Data for Presidential Candidates

The new campaign finance data is in for the presidential race with Hillary Clinton ($115,652,361) and Barack Obama ($102,170,668) the top two recipients. On the GOP side, the top four fundraisers are Mitt Romney ($88,499,686), John McCain ($41,102,178), Ron Paul ($28,101,264), and Mike Huckabee ($8,986,532). These numbers are for totals raised through the end of 2007.

The Center for Responsive Politics has posted the new data and provides a break down of donors in numerous categories. For example, a look at the Pharmaceuticals/Health Products industry (a total of $1,633,456) shows that the top three recipients of campaign contributions are Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Mitt Romney in that order. The Oil and Gas industry (a total of $2,304,032) was also a huge contributor, with Romney leading the way for those still in the race, followed by Clinton, McCain and Obama. Another influential sector, the Commercial Banking industry, donated $5,581,030 to Presidential candidates in 2007, with Clinton leading the way, followed by Obama, Romney and McCain.

Another way to look at campaign contributions is by amount. In the category of those who donated $200 or more, Obama was the beneficiary of more large donors, followed by Clinton and then Romney. In terms of money raised by candidates in the state of Michigan in 2007, Romney came in first with $2,073,170, followed by McCain with $1,032,465, Clinton $748,742, and Obama with $622,242.

In the Grand Rapids area, one can search by zip code for individuals who have donated over $1,000 to any Presidential candidate. In the 49503 zip code you have such notables as Peter Seechia, Michael Jandernoa with Bridge Street Capital and John Helmoldt with Jones, Gavan & Helmholdt LLC, all donating large sums to Romney or McCain. Those making significant donations to Democratic candidates were Martha’s Vineyard owner Karmeel Chinelly, Thomas Clinton, a lawyer with Varnum, and Gary McInerney with McInerney & Associates. In the 49506 zip code area, the big donors in 2007 to Democratic candidates are Yesterdog owner Bill Lewis and his wife Susan, lawyer Patrick Miles, and Eric Stansby with Emergency Health Partner. The biggest donors to GOP candidates were Marge Byington, Edith Blodgett, and Robert DeLamar with Lynk Systems Inc.

Along the lakeshore in Holland, the 49423 zip Code big donors were mostly to Republican candidates. Topping the list was Jerry & Delores Horne, Jim & Ginger Jurries, and Congressman Pete Hoekstra, all who made donations to Mitt Romney.

Voting with dollars? GR Press Misses Point of what Drives Elections

On Sunday January 13, the Grand Rapids Press ran a front page story titled “Primary 08: in W. Michigan, voting with dollars.” The story provides some information about which Presidential candidates have raised the most money here in West Michigan and mentions some of the major donors, but fails to provide readers with any detailed information on what role money plays in electoral politics and what impact big donors have on the democratic process.

The Press tells readers that the data they used is from the Center for Responsive Politics and is based upon the October 31, 2007 filings that candidates are required to submit to the Federal Election Commission. It seems that a great deal has happened with the presidential candidates in the past two and a half months and with the next deadline for filing on January 31st, one could ask if the article on campaign fundraising was a bit misleading. According to the Press story McCain ($442,000) and Obama ($109,000) were the top two fundraisers in West Michigan as of October 31. This doesn’t really influence the Democratic Primary, since Obama is not on the ballot, but it could potentially influence voters in favor of McCain. Not only does the story state that McCain is the top money raiser, it lists several prominent Republican donors that carry much weight with GOP politics – Alticor Chairman Stephen Van Andel, Gainey Corporation CEO Harvey Gainey, Peter Secchia, and Peter Cook.

However, the Press doesn’t provide any real information on why these big names might be bankrolling McCain and what kind of political influence they are hoping to buy. Harvey Gainey and Peter Cook are both significant supporters of religious right causes, while Secchia played a huge role in raising money to help elect George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Instead, the Grand Rapids Press quotes William Rustem, with the Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants. Rustem says people are donating money to the Obama and McCain campaigns because, “more educated people are clearly looking for ‘change’ candidates,” even though nothing is reported in the story to describe what kind of change these candidates are advocating.

What the Press could have done would have been to provide a more extensive list of donors from West Michigan and their ties to political influence and political movements. We encourage readers to go to the Open Secrets site and search the data on candidate donors based on name or zip code. In looking at the 49506 zip code, we found that the largest donors to date were Yesterdog owner Bill Lewis and his wife (both gave $4,600 to Obama) and Marge Byington ($4,600 to Giuliani). Other notable donors were James Peterson with Grubb/Ellis/Paramount Commercial Realty ($2,300 to Romney), J.C. Huizenga with Westwater Group ($2,100 to Romney), and Michael Ellis, owner of Ellis Parking ($1,000 to McCain). While listed with the Westwater Group, Huizenga is the president of National Heritage Academies, which runs Charter schools across the country. Huizenga was also a Bush Pioneer, raising over $100,000 and he sits on the board of the local rightwing think tank, the Acton Institute.

As election outcomes are increasingly determined by which candidates have more money, it is important that the public not only know who are giving big donations, but how that influences the electoral process and the decision making of those elected. Media Mouse plans to provide regular updates on campaign donors, their political connections, and how candidates are spending the money they raise.

Study: Michigan’s Campaign Finance Laws Lacking

A recent study of Michigan’s campaign finance laws by the Brennan Center has highlighted deficiencies in existing laws and has made a number of proposals for improving the laws. The study asserts that improvements in campaign financing laws would improve the functioning of the democratic process in Michigan.

A recent study by the Brennan Center for Law and Justice at New York University has found that Michigan’s campaign finance laws are lacking and is urging reform. The 24-page study, titled “Campaign Finance in Michigan,” assesses the state of Michigan’s campaign finance laws and highlights ways in which the laws could be strengthened. The Center argues that by strengthening campaign finance laws, the democratic process in Michigan would itself be strengthened.

According to the study, Michigan’s campaign finance laws suffer from large loopholes that limit their effectiveness. These loopholes include a lack of limits on contributions to PACs and political parties, an inadequate disclosure system that does not require disclosure for independent expenditures on so-called “issue ads” that do not urge people to vote “for” or “against” a particular individual or proposal, and limited use of public financing. The study its analysis into four areas covering disclosure, contribution limits, public financing, and enforcement. Disclosure in Michigan is limited by infrequent reporting and reporting that exempts “electioneering communications” (defined as advertisements in designated media, made within a specified period before an election that refer unambiguously to a candidate and are targeted to the candidate’s constituents) that do not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate, according to the study. The study demonstrates that there are large loopholes in laws setting contribution limits, including laws that allow individuals to make unlimited contributions to PACs and committees despite a $20,000 annual limit on contributions to individual candidates. Similarly, while there are prohibitions on contributions from corporations and labor unions, they can be circumvented easily as there are no prohibitions on contributions to state parties as long as they are not used for “expenditures.”

In the areas of public financing and enforcement, the study argues that further laws are needed as well. The report argues that current public financing laws–described as “relatively ineffective”–set the spending limits too low and therefore lead many candidates to opt-out from public financing. The current public financing limits include a grant of $1.125 million dollars and a spending limit of $2 million, making it near impossible to compete in gubernatorial races that spend tens of millions of dollars. When it comes to enforcement of existing campaign finance laws, the Secretary of State, who is responsible for enforcing the laws, has little power to actually do so. The office cannot issue subpoenas or cease and desist orders and has no power to conduct investigations. Furthermore, the maximum penalty that can be assessed for violating campaign finance laws is $1,000.

The study makes several recommendations in each area, arguing that the improvements would enhance the democratic process in Michigan. In the area of disclosure, the study advocates increasing reporting frequency, enacting laws that regulate “electioneering communications,” requiring the disclosure of independent expenditures within 48 hours, and implementing laws that would require disclosure of donations to political parties for “party-building expenses,” a move that would close a soft money loophole. To improve laws governing contribution limits, the study encourages Michigan to implement limits on contributions to PACs and political parties as well as calling on Michigan’s Senate to extend the prohibition on corporate and union contributions to political parties for expenditures to “electioneering communications.” With regard to public financing, the study asserts that Michigan’s public financing system is “almost obsolete” and encourages the state to increase the amount of funding offered and the spending limits in order to increase participation in the program, which the study argues should be expanded to include all statewide, legislative, and judicial races. Finally, to enhance enforcement, the study calls for the Secretary of the State to be given the power to investigate campaign finance violations, issue subpoenas, and issue cease and desist orders. Penalties should also be made more proportionate to violations.

The study is the fourth in a five-part series authored by the Brennan Center that examines how campaign finance laws have worked and not worked in the Midwest. Previous studies have been published examining campaign finance laws in Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Minnesota.

The Big Buy and Panel Discussion Examines Money and Politics

A film showing and panel discussion last night at the Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids examined the issue of money and politics and examined prospects for campaign finance reform in Michigan.

Last night at the Wealthy Theatre, a screening of the new film The Big Buy: Tom DeLay’s Stolen Congress and a panel discussion following the film explored the influence of money and elections. The film provided an overview of the career of Texas representative Tom DeLay, who rose from relative obscurity to become one of the second most powerful members in the House of Representatives. As a representative, DeLay was given the nickname “the Hammer” for his strong-armed tactics in building a Republican consensus while also earning a reputation for being one of the party’s most valuable fundraisers. Of course, it was DeLay’s fundraising—which resulted in his eventual indictment—that provided the film’s primary subject matter. Unfortunately, rather than providing a comprehensive look at the issue of corporate influence in politics, the film provided a partisan look at the issue where DeLay and his cronies were vilified for their acceptance of corporate contributions while Democrats’ acceptance of the money went unchallenged. The film portrays Democrats who fought DeLay’s redistricting attempt as heroes, and while their efforts deserves credit, the manner in which it was presented in the film prevented an honest look at money in politics. Despite its intense partisanship, there were a few surprises in the film, most notably the film’s mention of how DeLay’s redistricting in Texas may have resulted in the passage of controversial legislation such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the recent energy bill.

Following the film, there was a discussion featuring Sue Levy of the Kent County Democratic Party, Dave Dishaw of the Kent County Republicans, and Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN). For the most part, the panelists agreed that DeLay’s actions were illegal, although there were differences over whether or not it was his connections to Jack Abramoff or his work raising corporate money through Texans for a Republican Majority. The panel opened with moderator Jeff Smith of the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) asking the panel if contributions through political action committees (PACs) at both the national and state level were made with the expectation that they would get “returns” from candidates such as better legislation for their industries, tax breaks, or loosening of regulations. Rich Robinson answered that money given in this manner tends to drive policy and interest groups have no problem finding legislators that will respond to money. Robinson also pointed out that 95% of winners of state elections have had special interest money behind them. Both Sue Levy and Dave Dishaw agreed that contributions bought “access” to elected officials, but not direct influence.

This question led into a discussion of campaign finance reform, with the two major party representatives essentially advocating support for the status quo with minor alterations, while Rich Robinson argued that there is a need for more proactive measures. Dishaw said that the major problem with campaign finance is a lack of disclosure that then limits the public’s capacity to be informed about who is giving money to candidates. He opposed any limits on the amount of money that can be given while advocating a measure proposed by Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land that calls for instant online disclosure of contributions. Sue Levy also glossed over the issue of contributions, arguing that while the Republican Party is supported by relatively few wealthy donors, the Democratic Party receives so many small contributions that it is unable to account for them all. Robinson made the case that increased disclosure is not adequate, as in his view, it is not enough simply to say who bought the election, but rather people need to look at the possibility of publicly funding campaigns in order limit the influence of special interest groups. He cited recent experiments with this in Arizona and Maine where special interest groups have had their influence limited while the two parties have adopted more innovative legislation without special interest involvement. Unfortunately, campaign finance reform is not making much progress in Michigan, as Robinson explained that there are six bills dealing with the issue in the Michigan House of Representatives but they have not been brought up for a vote yet. The one with the best prospects for passage deals with increased disclosure, although a bill that would close a loophole allowing for unregulated “issue ads” “does not have a prayer.” Those wishing to get involved in campaign finance reform in the state of Michigan were encouraged to sign-up for the Michigan Campaign Finance Network’s mailing list on their website.

The question of media’s role in reporting on elections—by way of the discussion of the Alliance for Better Campaigns‘ proposal for free television airtime for political candidates—garnered a significant amount of attention during the discussion. Dave Dishaw of the Kent County Republican Party expressed opposition to such a proposal, stating that he believed it that the government cannot tell private, free-enterprise companies running television stations what to do and that it was a “slippery slope” if the country goes down the road of telling media outlets what they have to present their audiences. Dishaw’s statements ignored the fact that the airwaves used by the television broadcast media are publicly owned and that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does have some minimal standards requiring broadcast stations to serve the public interest. Rich Robinson pointed this out when he stated that broadcasters do have a public trust obligation and that right now they are not meeting this obligation and are instead focusing on coverage of how much money candidates are raising and who has the lead in opinion polls instead of focusing on issues. The panelists essentially agreed that the media in this country is doing an inadequate job of informing the public, which is in turn making it difficult for citizens to become informed and engaged participants in a democracy. Sue Levy of the Democratic Party also shared her belief that in the West Michigan area the media is promoting a Republican agenda. Similarly, Dick Dishaw explained that blogs have arisen to fill in some of the gaps left by the media’s poor coverage, although he expressed frustration at the fact that Democrats are “winning” in the “blogosphere.”

Top 150 PACs in Michigan Raised $30 Million this Election Cycle

The top 150 political action committees (PACs) in Michigan have raised $30 million this election cycle according to data compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN). MCFN reports that this figure is up 26.6% from the 2004 election cycle when the PACs had raised $23.7 million by July 20, 2004. The top PACs are the various legislative caucuses whose fundraising is up an average of 65%. The PACs of several interest groups have also experienced significant growth, with the United Autoworkers Voluntary PAC at $1,200,000 (up $425,000 in 2004), the Michigan Association of Realtors PAC at $876,608 (up $237,701) and the Comerica, Inc. PAC at $370,762 (up $207,594). National presidential candidates have also established PACs in Michigan, with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s Commonwealth PAC and Senator John McCain’s Straight Talk America – Michigan PAC raising $1,124,720 and $138,000 respectively.

Top Michigan Political Action Committees Setting New Fundraising Records

Michigan’s top 150 political action committees (PACs) have set new fundraising records for the 2005-2006 election cycle, with the PACs already raising nearly 23% more than at this point in the 2003-2004 cycle and nearly 36% more than in the 2001-2002 election cycle.

According to data compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN), Michigan’s top 150 political action committees (PACs) are setting new fundraising records in the 2005-2006 election cycle. Through April, the top 150 PACs in Michigan have raised $22,943,869, a figure that is 22.8% higher than at this point in the 2003-2004 election cycle and 35.5% higher than the $16.9 million raised at this point in the 2001-2002 election cycle. Rich Robinson of the MCFN said that “Interest groups are investing more than ever before to move the political process in Lansing” and emphasized the fact that “Citizens should not be deluded into thinking they’re doing it for selfless reasons” in a press release accompanying the data.

The legislative caucuses’ PACs are the top fundraisers, despite the fact that they are the only state PACs subject to contribution limits ($20,000 per year). Not surprisingly, Republican caucuses have raised the most, with House Republicans raising $2.2 million and Senate Republicans raising $1.6 million. Michigan’s Democrats have raised $1.5 million in the House and $871,000 in the Senate. Interestingly, the Commonwealth PAC, a PAC setup to boost the presidential prospects of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, has raised $350,000, making it the second-ranking officeholders’ leadership PAC behind the $483,000 raised by Governor Jennifer Granholm’s Leadership Fund. Aside from party interests, corporations and interest groups have also increased their PAC contributions. Comcast has contributed $106,000 to its PAC this election cycle to win favorable legislation affecting broadband market share after working last year with phone companies, the Telecommunications Association, and the Cable Telecommunications Association to deregulate Michigan’s telecomm industry last year. Other corporate contributors include DTE Energy, Comerica, AT&T Michigan, Consumers Energy, and DaimlerChrysler. A variety of interest groups also make significant monetary contributions to the political process including the Michigan Education Association, the Michigan Association of Realtors, the United Auto Workers, Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers, and the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association.

The increasing amounts of money entering the political process in Michigan are of particular concern given that there are few limits on PAC contributions, thereby increasing the likelihood that corporations, interest groups, and in some cases individuals, will be able to trump the public interest. Already, Dick DeVos’ gubernatorial campaign has made use of some $2.1 million to buy television advertising, nearly matching the $2.3 million that had been spent on ads in Michigan at this point in the 2004 presidential campaign by President George W. Bush. DeVos’ spending likely has contributed to the slight lead DeVos has over Governor Granholm in recent polls and shows the influence that money can have on an election.