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All the Governors’ Dark-Money Funds
Walker, Kasich, Snyder: These big-name governors embraced dark money to push their agendas. They could pay for it in 2014.
ANDY KROLLJAN. 9, 2014 11:00 AM
The 2014 election season means it’s reckoning time for a trio of high-profile Republican governors elected four years ago at the height of the tea party movement. GOP governors in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio ran on ambitious pledges to create jobs and jump-start their states’ economies. To meet those goals, score political points, and set themselves up for reelection, they launched their own versions of the dark-money nonprofit groups used by the Koch brothers’ political network and the pro-Obama Organizing for Action. Now, these governors are learning that their dark-money tactics could become an election year liability.
Months after after winning his gubernatorial bid in 2010, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed his very first bill into law, replacing the state’s development department with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called JobsOhio that would “move at the speed of business.”
Critics slam JobsOhio for a lack of transparency. Although nearly all of its revenue comes from state liquor profits, JobsOhio is exempt from public records laws, its annual disclosures to the Ohio Ethics Commission are confidential, and state ethics laws do not apply to it. When Ohio’s state auditor, Republican Dave Yost, tried to audit JobsOhio, GOP state lawmakers passed legislation all but blocking his office from fully scrutinizing its books. (Because JobsOhio launched with state-appropriated money, Yost was allowed a single, limited audit, which raised several red flags.) In its first year, JobsOhio also pocketed nearly $7 million from five private donors, but the Ohio supreme court later ruled the group didn’t have to release emails or records detailing the sources of those donations.
JobsOhio has faced charges of political favoritism and pay-to-play. Its board of directors, hand-picked by Kasich, includes multiple donors to Kasich’s campaigns and employees of Kasich donors. The Ohio Ethics Commission also found that 9 of the 22 JobsOhio officials required to file financial disclosure statements in 2011 and 2012—including six of its nine board members—had potential financial conflicts such as holding financial stakes in companies that had received incentives from JobsOhio. Matt Englehart, a spokesman for JobsOhio, says the group’s conflict of interest policies are “effective,” that JobsOhio holds board members and staffers to “a high level of ethical conduct,” and that the group is “held to a high level of accountability and reporting to what we do.”
To the north, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder spent much of 2012 swatting away accusations about his anonymously funded nonprofit, the New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify, or NERD, Fund. (A riff off Snyder’s “one tough nerd” nickname.) Snyder launched the NERD Fund in early 2011 with the aim of “lessening the financial burdens of government in the state of Michigan.”
In practice, the NERD Fund has acted as the Snyder administration’s private piggy bank, paying for whatever the governor and his team want. For months, unbeknownst to the public, it paid the salary of Richard Baird, a top aide to Snyder who nonetheless had a government phone number, and a .gov email address. The NERD Fund also paid for an expensive condo for Kevyn Orr, the white-collar lawyer hand-picked by Snyder to be Detroit’s all-powerful, unelected emergency manager. The NERD Fund did not willingly disclose this: Only after pressure from reporters and a lawsuit filed in state district court by a Detroit area activist did the nonprofit divulge that it was paying Baird and Orr.
The NERD Fund, like Kasich’s JobsOhio, has faced pay-to-play questions. The nonprofit’s sole publicly known donor is the Please delete me! chain CVS Caremark, which voluntarily disclosed a $1,000 donation made in 2012. (The NERD Fund raised nearly $1.7 million in 2011 and 2012.) The next year, CVS reportedly landed a $60 million Please delete me! contract from the Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson called the deal “pay-to-play politics,” but a Snyder spokesman said it was a “massive stretch” to connect the CVS donation to the contract. (Snyder, for his part, testified under oath that he personally didn’t know who donated to the NERD Fund.) A CVS spokeswoman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“[WEDC] really seems to be a rat hole where a lot of money is being dumped down into it,” says Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Rounding out the Midwestern trifecta is Gov. Scott Walker’s shadowy jobs group. Soon after talking office, Walker ditched the state commerce department and replaced it with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a private nonprofit created to help Walker fulfill a key campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs by 2015.
Three years later, the WEDC is a scandal-plagued mess, and Walker is 145,000 jobs short of his goal with a year to go in his first term. The questions dogging the WEDC, whose board Walker chairs, aren’t where its money comes from—it’s almost all taxpayer funds—but how the nonprofit spends it. The WEDC has given out hundreds of million in loans, tax credits, grants, and other incentives; recipients have in turn donated nearly $400,000 to Walker’s campaign account, according to an analysis by the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now.
Exempt from open records requests relating to financial matters, the WEDC has been criticized by state auditors for failing to keep records on a host of issues—how WEDC selects incentive recipients, how that incentive money is ultimately spent, and whether WEDC grants actually create jobs. “It really seems to be a rat hole where a lot of money is being dumped down into it and they can’t account for where a lot of that money has even gone,” says Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat up for reelection in 2014, has also embraced the power of dark money. Cuomo won his 2010 election in part by pledging to “clean up” the corruption in Albany, the state capital. Soon after, however, he urged several of New York’s wealthiest business executives to form the Committee to Save New York, a secretly funded nonprofit that went on to advocate for Cuomo’s pro-business agenda and against labor unions.
In 2011 and 2012, the committee spent more than $16 million lobbying on Cuomo’s behalf, the most of any organization. In the summer of 2012, the New York Times revealed that gambling interests gave $2 million to the committee at the same time Cuomo launched a full-throated push for opening private casinos in New York state. The governor has denied any connection between the donations and his position, but the appearance alone, watchdogs said, raised serious questions about influence peddling.
For all of these governors, dark-money connections have proved a headache, if not a political liability. Kasich’s Democratic challenger, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, has requested an ethics review of JobsOhio. Snyder’s opponent, ex-congressman Mark Schauer, has demanded the NERD Fund release its full donor list. (As a state lawmaker, Schauer had his own, much smaller nonprofit.) Several of these nonprofits have bowed to political pressure. The Committee to Save New York shut its doors after Cuomo signed new disclosure rules into law. In Michigan, Snyder eventually put Richard Baird on the state payroll, and in October, he said the NERD Fund would be shuttered, with a spokeswoman calling it an “unnecessary distraction.”
Good-government types hoping for some retroactive transparency are, however, out of luck. Even as the Committee to Save New York and the NERD Fund disappear, the two groups said their donors would now and always remain secret.
Andy Kroll is an investigative reporter at Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. Follow him on Twitter here. Send tips, scoops, and documents to akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com.
Mother Jones is a nonprofit, and stories like this are made possible by readers like you. Donate or subscribe to help fund independent journalism.
4 Reasons Obama’s New Dark-Money Rules Won’t Stop Dark Money
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3 Mayoral Races, 3 Stories Of Outside Money - Michigan Campaign ...
LANSING — Flint Mayor Karen Weaver faced a recall election, 17 challengers and negative TV advertisements levied by dark money groups. In the days before the Nov. 7 election in Flint, the groups started airing attack ads against Weaver. One organization named Opportunity for Michigan alleged that police response ...
FOLLOWING THE MONEY IN MICHIGAN POLITICS
3 Mayoral Races, 3 Stories Of Outside Money
What We Know And Don’t Know About Some Of The Groups That Tried To Influence Races For Mayor This Fall In Michigan
By CRAIG MAUGER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING — Flint Mayor Karen Weaver faced a recall election, 17 challengers and negative TV advertisements levied by dark money groups.
In the days before the Nov. 7 election in Flint, the groups started airing attack ads against Weaver. One organization named Opportunity for Michigan alleged that police response times in Flint had grown while Weaver increased her personal security detail. Another organization named Great Lakes Renaissance Fund brought multiple allegations against Weaver.
“Our mayor is no longer listening,” the Great Lakes Renaissance Fund declared in its ad. “On Nov. 7, head to the polls and let your voice be heard.”
The ads against Weaver are examples of the role of outside spenders in Michigan elections. These spenders can raise unlimited amounts money, and their efforts to influence voters can be difficult — and sometimes impossible — to trace.
This fall, mayoral elections in three of Michigan’s largest cities saw at least some involvement from outside groups. In two of the cities, the groups showed up in the final weeks before the election, providing little time for their targets to respond. And they were apparently also able to keep their donors secret, meaning the public couldn’t vet who was funding the ads they were seeing just before Election Day.
Groups whose ads expressly tell voters to support or oppose a candidate have to officially form as political action committees (PACs) and fall under state campaign finance disclosure rules, meaning they have to provide at least some information about their donors. But groups that provide the public with information about a candidate without telling viewers how to vote — regardless of how slanted the information may be — can generally avoid disclosure.
Flint Recall Election
Two groups that ran negative ads about Flint Mayor Karen Weaver apparently avoided disclosure.
While Great Lakes Renaissance Fund’s ads told viewers to “head to the polls and let your voice be heard,” Great Lakes Renaissance Fund isn’t a PAC at the county-level in Genesee County or at the state level. So MCFN could find no campaign finance disclosure for the organization.
Usually, but not always, nonprofit organizations file incorporation paperwork with the state, but Great Lakes Renaissance Fund doesn’t show up in the state’s database of registered business entities.
According to to filings with the Federal Communication Commissions (FCC), the group reserved about $13,942 in TV ad time in the days before the election.
TJ Bucholz, a Lansing-based political consultant, is the executive director of the Great Lakes Renaissance Fund, which he described as a progressive organization. The organization “supports issues and causes that are in line with our progressive ideals,” he said.
Campaign finance disclosures filed by the Michigan Pipe Trades Association Super PAC show the Super PAC gave $20,075 to the Great Lakes Renaissance Fund in 2017.
The PAC’s treasurer is Harold Harrington, who’s listed as the business manager for the Flint Area Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 370. Asked about Great Lakes Renaissance Fund and the TV ads, Harrington said he wasn’t sure of any TV ads being run against Weaver. Harrington did mention literature being distributed.
Harrington also referenced the fact that for one phase of a major pipe-replacement campaign in Flint, a requirement that certified plumbers do the work was lifted.
“We’re against any organization, any candidate or anybody else that wants to weaken plumbing laws in the state of Michigan,” Harrington said.
One of the criticisms the Great Lakes Renaissance Fund levied against Weaver in its ad was for choosing “not to hire licensed workers to replace our damaged pipes.”
Bucholz declined to provide additional information on the organization’s donors.
But the potential details surrounding Opportunity for Michigan’s interest in the mayoral race are murkier. The organization reserved about $31,704 in TV ad time, according to FCC filings. A copy of the organization's ad viewed by MCFN focused on police response times.
“When danger is at the door, every second counts,” the ad says as a masked man approaches a building’s front door. “You call hoping and praying help is on the way. But in Karen Weaver’s Flint, it’s not.”
According to FCC filings, the group’s treasurer is Robert Patrick Armiak III, but there is no record of a business entity by the name Opportunity for Michigan in the state’s business registration database. The address listed on FCC filings for Opportunity for Michigan belongs to a UPS Store in Lansing, about 50 miles from Flint.
Despite the negative attacks, Weaver survived the recall election this fall with more than 50 percent of the vote. Second-place finisher Scott Kincaid, a Flint City Council member who received the support of labor groups, received about 32 percent of the vote.
The spending by the groups in Flint was just a portion of the overall money in the race. Weaver’s campaign reported raising $146,694 leading up to the election. Kincaid’s mayoral campaign reported $110,476 in fundraising.
Lansing’s Mayoral Race
State Rep. Andy Schor cruised to victory in the race to be Lansing’s next mayor this fall against Lansing City Council member Judi Brown Clarke. Schor, whose campaign reported raising $361,628, got about 72 percent of the vote.
However, in the days before the election, a group called Capitol City Leadership Project funded a negative mailer against Schor and positive TV advertisements about Brown Clarke. MCFN tracked about $5,815 in spending on broadcast TV ad time by the organization, according to FCC filings. The mailer criticized Schor for supporting a 2015 statewide ballot proposal to increase the sales tax to boost funding for roads. It’s unclear how much was spent on distributing the mailer.
“Tell Andy Schor, we need fair taxes not sales taxes,” the mailer said.
The organization’s efforts didn’t fall under Michigan’s campaign finance disclosure requirements, and MCFN could find no public record of the organization filing business registration paperwork with the state.
Documents filed with the FCC about the TV advertisements listed lawyer G. Michael Hocking as “president, secretary + treasurer.” Hocking didn’t return multiple requests for comment.
Schor said he was disappointed to see the advertisements roll out in the last week before the election.
“The voters of Lansing won’t be deceived by that,” Schor said.
Schor’s campaign, which raised $361,628, had a significant money advantage in the race. Brown Clarke’s campaign raised $91,454.
Detroit’s Mayoral Race
The money was easier to trace in Detroit, where Super PACs dominated the outside spending in the 2017 race to be mayor of Michigan’s largest city. Super PACs have to file regular disclosures, providing some information about where their money comes from.
Incumbent Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan won re-election easily against state Sen. Coleman Young. Aiding in Duggan’s victory was a major financial advantage.
Duggan’s campaign reported raising about $4.3 million between his last election in 2013 and the 2017 election. It reported spending $4.1 million between the two elections.
In addition to those large numbers, a pro-Duggan Super PAC, Turnaround Detroit, reported raising $874,500 in 2017 as of Oct 27. According to its campaign finance filings, the Super PAC’s treasurer, is Samuel Thomas, a former state lawmaker, whose online biography describes him as “knight of the Rolodex, navigator of rough waters, Super PAC-Man.”
The Super PAC spent a large sum of money running positive TV ads about Duggan, but because the ads didn’t expressly tell viewers to vote for Duggan, the Super PAC apparently didn’t have to specify how much of its spending on ads was focused on backing Duggan.
As of Oct. 20, the Super PAC reported spending $579,129 on advertising and mailings. Additional information on the group’s spending could become available at the end of January when it files its next quarterly disclosure.
Jason Gourley, the Super PAC’s designated record keeper, declined earlier this fall to answer the question of whether the Super PAC was spending money on advertising about any official other than those involved in the Detroit mayoral race.
Large contributions funded Turnaround Detroit, who disclosed its donors in regular reports to the Michigan Secretary of State. The Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters gave $150,000 over the summer. This fall, Roger Penske, of the Penske Corporation, gave $250,000. Powering the Economy, a Super PAC connected to the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, gave $125,000. And Central Transport, one of Matty Moroun’s corporate identities, gave $100,000.
Turnaround Detroit’s spending dwarfed the spending of the pro-Young Super PAC, Save Our City. Save Our City reported $37,157 in contributions. It ran a small number of negative advertisements against Duggan.
Young’s campaign reported raising $52,780 for the year.
Fri Jan 05, 2018 10:42 am
By Berl Schwartz
With Bernero not running, Schor’s support piles up
Seats on the Andy Schor Express to City Hall are quickly filling up.
Schor, who officially filed for mayor on Tuesday, will announce today that the Greater Lansing Association of Realtors is supporting him. On the labor side, he already has the plumbers and pipefitters local and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights. The latter’s endorsement cited his support in the state House of Representatives on such issues as prevailing wage and right to work.
And with incumbent Virg Bernero out of the way, pols have been quick to get onboard. All the Ingham County commissioners, including Republicans, are backing Schor, a Democrat who served on the Board of Commissioners for 10 years before going to the House. The mayoral election is nonpartisan.
Four of the five countywide elected officials are supporting him — only Register of Deeds Derrick Quinney hasn’t yet signed on. Quinney, a longtime UAW member and leader, said he will decide after the union determines its endorsement.
And a host of neighborhood leaders are backing him — no doubt looking for more attention after nearly three terms of a City Hall many of them see as favoring downtown and the Michigan Avenue Corridor over their needs.
There are also five Lansing School Board members behind him: Peter Spadafore (himself a candidate for an at-large seat on the City Council), Gabrielle Johnson Lawrence, Missy Lilje, Nino Rodriguez and Shirley Rodgers.
And thus far two regional leaders are supporting him: Delta Township Clerk Mary Clark and, intriguingly, the Lansing Township supervisor, Dion’trae Hayes. Given that Bernero once likened the township to North Korea, her support suggests a new era of cooperation. That should be music to the ears of the business community, which was tiring of the conflicts Bernero had with other mid-Michigan leaders.
Meanwhile, Schor smartly distanced himself from TJ Bucholz, a Bernero target before he pulled out of the race. Bucholz helped Schor, an old friend, with his rollout. Bernero tied Schor to the dark-money group No Secret Lansing Deals because Bucholz is its spokesman. Schor denied any connection to the group, but to play it safe, he confirmed Tuesday that he won’t further use Bucholz, calling the issue a “distraction.”
He did, though, hire one of Bucholz’ employees, Chelsea Coffey, to serve as his campaign manager. Coffey, 23, a Saginaw Valley State University graduate from Vassar, was development manager for Bucholz’ Vanguard Public Affairs. She and Schor got to know each other when she interned for the House Dems. She is taking a leave from Vanguard.
While Schor’s momentum is formidable, it’s too early to call it for him. Major players, such at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and the UAW, won’t likely decide their endorsements until after the filing deadline. Moreover, Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope is still considering a run as of Tuesday, which would make the August runoff primary at least a three-way race with Councilwoman-at-Large Judi Brown Clarke, who announced her candidacy last week. Swope, who would have to forego a fourth term as clerk, could be formidable, given that he has not even drawn an opponent in his last two races.
Five into two won’t go: Five candidates have officially filed for the two City Council at-large seats — two of them members of the Lansing School Board: Spadafore and more recently Guillermo Lopez. Incumbent Brown Clarke has announced for mayor, precluding her from running again for her at-large seat. Incumbent Kathie Dunbar presumably is running, although she has yet to file.
Lopez said he’s wanted to serve on the Council for a long time, but he couldn’t while he was still a city employee. He retired as an equal opportunity specialist in 2014, ending a 30-year municipal career.
Born in Mexico, Lopez, 67, has been a strong voice in the effort to declare Lansing a “sanctuary city,” but he said, “That’s only one issue.”
“I’ve lived here for 30-plus years, and I’ve seen our neighborhoods go downhill. Look at MLK and Holmes and Pennsylvania. We need neighborhood empowerment and development.
“The economic base for a city is its housing stock,” he added. “We have houses going down in value. How do we help families keep their homes up? Neighborhoods go down in value when city services are lacking. The streets are terrible. Many side streets are nothing but potholes.
“We’ve done a lot of good stuff downtown and on the Michigan (Avenue) Corridor, but it’s time to focus more on neighborhoods.”
The other three who are running for the two at-large spots are Christopher Jackson, a legal aid attorney; Justin DeBoer, 28, a cook and Lansing native; and Michael Ruddock, 23, a senior at MSU who is slated to graduate in May from the James Madison College with a major in social relations and policy.
Finally, a reader raised the question of whether former city employees could continue to collect their pensions while serving on the City Council. Two candidates fall into that category: Lopez and retired internal auditor Jim DeLine, who is running to represent Lansing’s Second Ward.
The answer is yes, according to City Attorney James Smiertka. Council members are not in the retirement system, and nothing prohibits them from receiving their pensions.
Fri Jan 12, 2018 7:51 pm
|Lansing Mayor voices concerns over mayoral race
By Alysia Burgio
Published: February 18, 2017, 6:28 pm Updated: February 18, 2017, 6:37 pm
LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – While we’re several months away from the mayoral election, it seems as though the gloves have already come off for those thinking of running for the mayor of Lansing.
However, those potential candidates haven’t officially announced they will run.
Lansing’s current Mayor Virg Bernero says he wanted to address some concerns after a news article yesterday addressed his future plans as Lansing’s mayor.
While both of them haven’t officially announced if they plan to run, Mayor Bernero and State Representative Andy Schor are already butting heads.
Mayor Bernero says Representative Schor is supporting a group known as “No Secret Lansing Deals” which he says is against him and his administration.
However, Schor says he has nothing to do with it.
“I think we got to shed some light on this and I’m just making the noise now and I want to make it very clear for him to launch his campaign and talk about a clean campaign…the hypocrisy is stunning and he’s got some answers, I think he owes the public some answers,” said Mayor Bernero.
Bernero claims TJ Bucholz who is the president of local PR firm “Vanguard Public Affairs,” is assisting the “No Secret Lansing Deals” group which is a group that serves as a watchdog for the city.
Bernero claims Bucholz is also working as Representative Schor’s “spokesperson”.
6 News asked Bucholz today if this was the case and this was his response…
“It’s not true at all, they’ve been a client of ours since October 2016, Andy Schor and I are friendly…we’ve been friends for 15 years, I am one of the people talking to him about his future but Andy Schor has nothing to do with this client,” Bucholz stated.
6 News also reached out to Representative Schor today to get his response to Bernero’s concerns and he sent us this statement:
“I am finalizing my decision-making process and look forward to sharing that with Lansing and the region next week. I am not now, and never have been involved in any way with any of the dark money groups here in Lansing. Not “No Secrets,” not “Reform Lansing,” not “Capitol Region Progress.” I am disappointed that Mayor Bernero’s first act in announcing his re-election is to attack me.”
We’re still months away from the mayoral race but as we learn more about who is throwing in their hat to run as Lansing’s mayor, we’ll be sure to keep you updated.
Fri Jan 12, 2018 8:43 pm
|Home All Articles News Dark money rising
NEWS Nov. 30 2016 11:18 AM
Dark money rising
Mayoral campaign already framed by shadowy groups and hidden agendas
BY TODD HEYWOOD
A screenshot of a video being promoted by the political advocacy organization Reform Lansing. The video targets Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and Lansing Economic Area Partnership CEO Bob Trezise for their involvement in the approval of the SkyVue development on Michigan Avenue. The group contends the deal was bad for Lansing residents because it gave $26 million in tax breaks to out-of-state developers, who then hired workers from outside of Lansing. The video is largely seen as the opening salvo in a proxy war between shadowy political "education" groups that will unfold during the 2017 mayoral election.
A proxy war of secretive “citizen” groups has begun shaping a nascent 2017 Lansing mayoral race.
They want to unseat Virg Bernero, expected to seek a fourth term, and have targeted the economic incentive programs he’s promoted.
One group, Reform Lansing, has a website, video and Facebook group assailing the $90-million, 823-bed SkyVue apartment block on Michigan Avenue.
The other, No Secret Lansing Deals, has raised concerns on its website and with its Facebook group about the proposed $370 million Red Cedar Renaissance development.
Expected to resurface as the mayoral race nears is Capitol Region Progress, a shadowy group with ties to Bernero and the political consulting group Grassroots Midwest.
Welcome to social media campaigning. All three deny political motives and claim their goals are advocacy and education. None are willing to discuss their backers or finances.
“We are not publicly funded, unlike the development projects Virg Bernero is spending our tax dollars on,” said Angela Wittrock, spokeswoman for Reform Lansing.
“Citizens have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. Citizens should know that Virg Bernero is giving our tax dollars to his campaign contributors with zero accountability.”
Wittrock said her group is in the process of filing the paperwork to become a federally recognized political nonprofit known as a 501(c)4. That designation allows the organization to solicit donations and spend that money on “issue advocacy.”
Capitol Region Progress is already a federally recognized political nonprofit. It has not disclosed its donors, and its representatives have declined to discuss the organization with City Pulse. However, City Pulse did report last year that some developers in the city reported Bernero had directed them to make donations to the organization rather than to his selected Council candidates in 2014. Bernero has denied influencing the actions of the organization.
No Secret Lansing Deals is fronted by Vanguard Public Affairs’ president, T.J. Bucholz. He too declined to identify his group’s donors, which he identified only as a coalition of “citizens and business owners.” He said the group has no intention of seeking a formal political nonprofit status.
“I think the climate in Lansing is such that some of my clients would be concerned about anonymity,” he said. The reason? They are worried about “bullying” by Bernero, who has made a name for himself as “The Angriest Mayor in America.”
Randy Hannan, Bernero’s chief of staff and spokesman, did not immediately respond to email inquiries regarding Bucholz’s allegations.
This is not the first time Bucholz has tangled with team Bernero. He ran the communications operations for former Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon in his 2010 bid for the Democratic nomination for governor. Bernero won that primary and went on to lose against Republican Rick Snyder.
For her part, Wittrock is no stranger to the mayor either. She covered City Hall for City Pulse as well as MLive.com before doing political communications for the Senate Democrats. Earlier this year she was hired by the liberal-issues advocacy issues group Priorities Michigan, a 501(c)4 founded in part by the Michigan League for Public Policy in 2014. Wittrock said her work with Reform Lansing is completely independent from her work with Priorities Michigan.
Despite calling for more transparency on development deals between Lansing and large developers, Bucholz said his group was focusing initially on the “shenanigans” in Lansing but will also shine a light on such activities across the state.
The group does appear to have ties to former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox. Cox, who is in private practice, is representing Leo and Christopher Jerome in a federal civil lawsuit against Bernero and developer Joel Ferguson alleging racketeering in the awarding of the Red Cedar project. The Jeromes were originally partners with Ferguson on developing the old Red Cedar golf course in conjunction with adjacent property where the Jeromes operated a car dealership.
The group’s website was registered by Cox confident Stu Sandler in June of this year. Bucholz said Sandler “may” have had some role in the group “early on.”
Bernero is hardly unarmed going into this campaign proxy war. His ties to Capitol Region Progress have played out in City Council races, where local developers were directed to donate to the political group rather than Third Ward City Council incumbent A’Lynne Boles or First Ward City Council challenger Shelley Mielock.
The mayor issued a vague statement about the group in 2015.
“Capitol Region Progress has been active in city elections for the past four years, so it is no surprise they are involved in this cycle,” he said in an emailed statement in 2015 as the group was flooding the First and Third wards with robocalls and mailers. “While I may not agree with all their tactics, I appreciate that they support a pro-jobs, pro-growth agenda and they care enough about metro Lansing to oppose candidates who they believe are an obstacle to progress.”
The group’s tactics were criticized in 2014 when it attacked Ingham County Commissioner Deb Nolan and former City Councilman Brian Jeffries. In 2015, Capitol Region Progress again appeared on the political scene with mailers accusing Adam Hussain, Boles’ challenger in the Third Ward, of being a puppet of his mother, Jody Washington, then seeking re-election to her First Ward seat. The group also released robocalls. Those calls resulted in complaints to the FCC by residents. Those residents said they still have not heard from the FCC on the status of their complaints.
Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said the groups should disclose their donors so voters have a better idea who is trying to influence their votes.
He said voters "can’t weigh the value because there is no transparency."
Don’t expect the groups to disappear, though, he said.
“This is the trend of what is going to happen in Michigan and nationally until an elected official stops it,” he said.
Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, said the groups were not impacted by Michigan finance laws.
“State campaign-finance law does not require anything from groups that do not explicitly advocate for or against a candidate,” he said in an emailed statement.
That’s something one potential mayoral candidate has tried to change.
Democrat Andy Schor, who represents a large portion of the city of Lansing in the state House chamber, said he has tried to make “so-called dark money groups or issue advocacy groups or whatever you want to call them” disclose their donors. He introduced legislation to force such disclosures, but the GOP-controlled Legislature passed a law exempting the groups from campaign finance disclosures.
“I’d say if I had my way, they would be required to disclose like any candidate committee,” he said.
And while he is calling for disclosure by all the groups on who is funding them, he said it is unlikely to happen.
“No one is going to want to unilaterally disarm,” he said.
Lansing Council President Judi Brown Clarke, who is considering a run for mayor too, said she was unaware of the groups and therefore “had no comment.”
Fri Jan 12, 2018 8:46 pm
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