LANSING — In November, 2018, Michigan voters overwhelming approved Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment that would significantly change the way Michigan’s political lines are drawn for congressional and state legislative districts. As the proposal grew from an idea to an approved referendum, Proposal 2 became a perfect example of the extent to which dark money plays into Michigan politics.
On July 29, 2018, Politico published an article in which was stated that a network of secret-money groups has spent millions of dollars attacking swing-seat Republicans on health and taxes, becoming one of the “biggest players” in the 2018 political landscape.
The groups have members and names like Floridians for a Fair Shake, Michigan Families for Economic Prosperity and North Carolinians for a Fair Economy, Politico stated, but they are all linked to one obscure nonprofit in downtown Washington, D.C.: the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which has funneled millions of dollars to progressive causes in recent years and set up each of the new groups, according to D.C. corporation records.
Bridgemi.com on Oct. 26, 2018, then reported that Voters Not Politicians (VNP), the ballot committee backing the redistricting system in Michigan, took in nearly $14 million over the past three months, swamping the group that is opposed to the ballot measure. Campaign records filed revealed that VNP took in no less than $13.96 million in direct and in-kind contributions during the reporting period that ended in July of that year.
Michigan Campaign Finance Network published the following data on funding VNP received, and from where:
Voters Not Politicians
• How much has it raised: $15.65 million ($15.33 million direct contributions and $322,668 in in-kind contributions)
• How much has it spent: $10,999,781
• How many individual contributions has it reported: About 28,837 contributions
1. Sixteen Thirty Fund, Washington D.C., $5.5 million
2. Action Now Initiative, Texas, $5.1 million
3. SEIU-United Healthcare Workers, $500,000
4. Kathryn Murdoch, Quadrivium Foundation, $500,000
5. Stacy Schusterman, Samson Energy, $500,000
6. Seth Klarman, Boston, $250,000
7. National Redistricting Action Fund, $250,000
8. Beckwith Constitutional Liberties Fund, East Lansing nonprofit, $150,000
9. National Education Association, $125,000
10. Green Advocacy Project, $100,000
Opponents of the proposition criticized VPN for taking out-of-state financial contributions, but opposed the action using dark money funding, led by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
“A grassroots anti-gerrymandering group seeking to pass a ballot initiative that would allow for a balanced redistricting process that does not favor any one party is facing an attack from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce,” the Detroit Metro Times reported on May 2, 2018. “The chamber, which has endorsed Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette for governor, is a key backer of a conservative group attempting to thwart the anti-gerrymandering proposal by ballot committee Voters Not Politicians. According to a report published by the Associated Press, the conservative group, Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, received $100,000 from the Michigan chamber’s political action committee in February and $85,000 in in-kind legal services in March from the Michigan Chamber Litigation Center.”
Another 2018 article, published by represent.us, reported that “the dark money attack on America’s most impactful anti-gerrymandering initiative,” listed Deloitte, West Shore Bank, and the Grand Hotel” as all members of a dark money group that’s backing a pro-gerrymandering lawsuit to “silence voters.”
In the 2018 election cycle, Deloitte has given more than $2.8 million in campaign contributions, Represent stated, adding that the previous year, they spent nearly $2 million just on lobbying. And in return? In Michigan, Deloitte has received more than $400 million worth of government contracts.”
Represent’s allegation was confirmed in a July 12, 2018, guest column of the Oakland Press. Emily Wietecha, Special to Digital First Meda wrote that Michigan is one of the worst gerrymandering states in America.
“…the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, led by its chair Mark Davidoff from Deloitte, is funding a lawsuit to get the initiative knocked off the ballot,” Wietecha reported. “On June 7 (2018), the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered that the anti-gerrymandering measure be placed on the November ballot, rejecting the lawsuit.”
She continued by reporting that a scan of the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget contracts revealed that Deloitte has received more than $400 million worth of active Michigan government contracts.
“That’s a tidy sum compared to the $295,000 in campaign contributions the firm has made since 2000 in Michigan, according to the National Institute on Money in Politics,” she wrote. “And Deloitte has spent nearly $246,000 Deloitte and affiliates have spent lobbying Lansing. It appears Deloitte cares more about protecting profits than protecting democracy.”
Crain’s Detroit Business on July 31, 2018, reported that an Associated Press statistical analysis of the 2016 election results found that Michigan’s state House districts had one of the largest Republican tilts in the nation, trailing only South Dakota’s. The AP used an “efficiency gap” analysis to measure potential gerrymandering — the same statistical tool later cited in a lawsuit that alleges Michigan’s legislative districts are unconstitutional.
A separate statistical analysis conducted for the AP by the Princeton University Gerrymandering Project, Crain’s continued, found that the extreme Republican advantages in some states were unlikely to be a fluke.
“The Princeton analysis found that the Republican edge in Michigan’s state House districts had only a 1-in-16,000 probability of occurring by chance,” stated Crain’s.
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