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$10M From Out-Of-State Given To Support, Oppose MI Ballot Props

August 7, 2018

More than $10.2 million has been given to support or oppose ballot measures in Michigan this year from groups or people not based in Michigan, making up 57 percent of all contributions to the major ballot proposals.

Out of the nearly $18 million given to ballot committees supporting or opposed to the major measures this election cycle, $10.2 million has come from contributors who listed an address outside of the state, according to a MIRS analysis of the latest campaign finance data released two weeks ago.

The analysis considered the proposals that have either made the ballot, could make the ballot or have been OKed by the Legislature — prevailing wage repeal, marijuana legalization, paid sick time, minimum wage, redistricting and voting rights proposals, as well as committees that have formed to oppose those measures. 

The analysis also considered the part-time legislature proposal that fizzled out and the renewable energy proposal that was circulating earlier this year but struck a deal with the state’s utilities to stay off the ballot.

Looking at the groups pushing the ballot proposals, $9.8 million of the $16 million poured into those committees have come from somewhere outside of Michigan. And looking at committees formed to oppose those measures, $480,000 of the $1.9 million raised by those groups has come from outside the Mitten. 

Experts and observers say the presence of out-of-state money isn’t anything new to ballot proposal campaigns. 

Bill Ballenger of The Ballenger Report said the 1992 push to enact term limits in Michigan was funded largely by interests outside of Michigan, as one example. He attributed the flow of national money into state campaigns as a tactic employed by Democrats and progressives to push policies they otherwise aren’t seeing get done in state legislatures. 

Ballenger said that because Democrats “don’t control anything here in Michigan,” it’s part of an effort to get policy enacted by another means. 

“What do you do? You take to the streets, you start petitions,” Ballenger said. 

The lack of action on certain issues was echoed by Dana Laurent, director of strategic initiatives at the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit providing strategic advice and assistance to progressive ballot campaigns across the country, including helping out with the paid sick leave, minimum wage and voting access ballot campaigns here in Michigan. 

“For working people, for quality of life, for living wage, for the ability of people to take time off to care for their sick kid or themselves or family members . . . that is not getting done in state legislatures across the country,” Laurent said, adding later, “when we see more gridlock, we see more grassroots energy around moving policy through direct democracy,” and as that energy grows, “national organizations on both sides of the fence are . . . then inclined to get involved.” 

There’s also a Center for Conservative Initiatives connected to the State Government Leadership Foundation, and it’s described as a “national effort leveraging resources to oppose or support ballot initiatives that impact conservative governing, bureaucratic growth, or free enterprise.” It’s not clear if the center is active in Michigan this cycle, and an effort to get a comment from the center was not successful. 

But what is the ultimate driving force behind these ballot proposals in Michigan – the activists on the ground, or the national groups bankrolling the efforts? Observers say it’s often a combination of both. 

“You have national organizations that care about moving particular issues and achieving certain kinds of policy change, and you have advocates on the ground who are working with volunteers who are gathering signatures who are trying to move this policy and talk to voters about it,” Laurent said. 

In working with Michigan activists, however, Laurent said, “It is not national organizations driving the train, that’s not what’s happening. These are state, homegrown ideas and policies that advocates decided to move.” 

One example is the marijuana legalization effort led by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA). While they’ve gotten national help from the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) — which has a track record of pushing marijuana proposals across the country — the coalition has “heavy support in Michigan financially,” said Craig Maugerexecutive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. 

There’s still been concern about “out-of-state special interests and dark money” driving initiatives, which is how the Mi Time to Care initiative was described by the business-backed group set up to oppose it, known as Small Business for a Better Michigan. 

But Ballenger said it’s not like “outside forces are trying to cram something down our throat that clearly our people are opposed to.” 

That’s because some of the issues up for the ballot — paid sick leave, minimum wage, voting rights and more — have all been shown to poll well with voters, he said.

MIRS‘ analysis looked at the address provided on each individual contribution. But a group’s address doesn’t always show where the money is coming from, Mauger said. Just because a group’s address is listed in Michigan doesn’t mean the money isn’t flowing in from elsewhere. 

For instance, on the voting access constitutional amendment supported by Promote the Vote, the national ACLU in New York is shown to be the top contributor the campaign, giving $2.2 million of the group’s $2.7 million. But Mauger noted the Michigan affiliate for ACLU has a presence here and has been active in the campaign. 

But the trend Mauger did highlight is that some campaigns have been entirely or almost entirely financed by one entity. And in some cases, that entity lists an address outside of Michigan. 

For instance, Clean Energy Healthy Michigan, the clean energy proposal that was negotiated off the ballot, had $3.8 million pumped into it by NextGen Climate Action, the San Francisco-based nonprofit bankrolled by billionaire Tom Steyer. 

And Mi Time to Care, the Michigan entity pushing the paid sick leave proposal, has gotten $2.1 million of its $2.4 million total contributions from the nonprofit Sixteen Thirty Fund, which lists its address in Washington, D.C.

The redistricting proposal sponsored by Voters Not Politicians (VNP) appears to have attracted the broadest base of financial support among the major proposals. MIRS found at least 14,840 individual donations tied to VNP. 

However, Mauger noted there’s been some outside help for the proposal now, too — VNP reported getting $250,000 on the reporting deadline day from Action Now Initiative, based in Houston, Texas. 

Here’s a look at some of the major ballot proposals, how much they’ve raised and their top individual contributor and where that contributor lists its address, based on the most recent campaign finance report: 

Voters Not Politicians – Redistricting 
Total Raised: $1.4M 
Top Individual Contributor: Action Now Initiative 
Location: Houston, Texas 
Amount Given: $250,000 

Mi Time to Care – Paid Sick Leave 
Total Raised: $2.4M 
Top Individual Contributor: Sixteen Thirty Fund 
Location: Washington, D.C. 
Amount Given: $2.1M 

Michigan One Fair Wage – Minimum Wage Increase 
Total Raised: $1.4M 
Top Individual Contributor: Restaurant Opportunities Center Action 
Location: Detroit 
Amount Given: $682,500 

Promote the Vote – Voting Access 
Total Raised: $2.7M 
Top Individual Contributor: ACLU 
Location: New York, New York 
Amount Given: $2.2M 

Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol – Marijuana Legalization 
Total Raised: $1.03M 
Top Individual Contributor: Marijuana Policy Project 
Location: Washington, D.C. 
Amount Given: $444,205 

Clean Energy Healthy Michigan – Increase Renewable Portfolio Standard 
Total Raised: $3.8M 
Top Individual Contributor: NextGen Climate Action 
Location: San Francisco, California 
Amount Given: $3.8M 

Clean Michigan – Part-Time Legislature 
Total Raised: $1.3M 
Top Individual Contributor: Fund For Michigan Jobs 
Location: Lansing 
Amount Given: $1.05M* 

*Based on February 2018 quarterly report 

Protecting Michigan Taxpayers – Prevailing Wage Repeal 
Total Raised: $1.6M 
Top Individual Contributor: Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan 
Location: Lansing 
Amount Given: $1.3M

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