Millions have poured into Michigan’s petition campaigns. Their financing is a mystery.

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The maneuver allows the petitioners to bypass the governor and escape a general election where the measures must be passed by a simple majority.

Coordinated effort?

A pair of Republican-backed ballot initiative committees seeking changes to Michigan’s electoral system and pandemic response draw their funds from three black money groups registered at the same Lansing address – a sequel to the summit of a Jimmy John’s on Allegan Street.

LaBrant said it reflected a “highly coordinated effort,” but those managing the groups said using the same address was just a convenience for accounting.

The three 501(c)(4) groups – Michigan Guardians of Democracy, Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility and Michigan! My Michigan! — donated a total of $3.3 million to Unlock Michigan, a petition committee seeking to limit the length of a governor’s emergency orders to 28 days.

That black money made up nearly 90% of Unlock Michigan’s total revenue of $3.7 million at the end of December, according to campaign materials.

Another voting committee that shares this address on Allegan Street is Secure MI Vote, a Republican-backed petition campaign committee that lobbies for voter ID requirements, mail-in voting restrictions, and a ban on voting. external funding for the elections.

Of the $841,000 of secure voting for MI raised in 2021, nearly 90% — $750,000 — came from the Michigan Guardians of Democracy.

The location is office space for the GOP consulting firm Bright Spark Strategies. Its founder, Heather Lombardini, helps manage each of the nonprofits’ corporate filings.

Lombardini helped incorporate Michigan Guardians of Democracy in September. She is president and director of Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, which was formed in 2010, and treasurer of Michigan! My Michigan!, a group linked to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.

“A big part of our business is accounting,” Lombardini told Bridge Michigan in an email. “All accounts…are for different clients.”

Unlock Michigan spokesman Fred Wszolek echoed Lombardini, saying the same address only proves “that they share the same accountant.” This does not suggest coordination.

The shared location isn’t an unusual arrangement for “dark money schemes,” but deserves careful consideration, McKean of the Campaign Legal Center said. The practice is also common among Michigan’s political action committees — groups required to disclose their donors — especially when tied to one another.

LaBrant said registering multiple nonprofits at the same address allows wealthy interests to funnel money through different groups without attracting “too much heat.”

Nonprofit managers can easily create new groups as additional fundraising arms if the money already raised isn’t enough to “finish the petition campaign,” LaBrant said.

“They’re just going to go out and create another 501(c)(4), raise a bunch of unreportable money, and then this outfit will donate another $500,000 each to those two voting committees,” he said.

Black money has been pouring into Michigan for decades, but LaBrant said it’s new to witness it at this level.

In 2013, for example, Right to Life in Michigan successfully lobbied for a ballot measure ending public and private insurance coverage for elective abortions. The group raised more than $44,000, most of which came from its own local chapters, according to an analysis by Bridge Michigan.

In 2008, the Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care – the voting committee that successfully lobbied for the legalization of medical marijuana – received $1.72 million, including $1.69 million from Marijuana Policy Project, a 501(c)(4) black money group in Washington, DC, Show campaign materials.

LaBrant has filed two unsuccessful lawsuits, arguing that Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility — one of Unlock Michigan’s major funders — should be subject to disclosure requirements as it continues to raise funds to advocate for the measure. of voting and, in doing so, qualifies as a Committee voting matter.

Michigan’s office of the secretary of state found no violations of campaign finance law in any of LaBrant’s complaints. LaBrant said another lawsuit he filed in the summer of 2021 against the three nonprofits funding Unlock Michigan is pending.

Jamie Roe, spokesperson for Secure MI Vote, told Bridge Michigan that his committee follows the law.

“The people who contribute to us are people who share our desires to secure elections,” Roe said.

A bigger concern, he said, was keeping “special interests” out of government-run elections. Secure MI Vote’s ballot proposal would ban private election donations — like the millions of dollars that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated to a nonprofit that funneled money. money to the governments of the country to help cover the costs of the 2020 elections.

“We’re much more concerned about what’s happening with outside vested interests and commercial interests that fund aspects of the government’s election administration,” Roe said. “When it comes to state election rules, we don’t create them. If the people desire to change them, the legislature is free to change them.

Liberal black money is pouring in

Left-wing groups fighting Secure MI Vote have so far outgrown it — and done so with black money.

Protect MI Vote, a little-known polling committee formed in May, was designed to rival its conservative counterpart, according to a Michigan Democratic Party pamphlet encouraging people to report Secure MI Vote petitioners gathering signatures by calling a hotline .

An automated voicemail on the other end greets callers by greeting them on the “campaign hotline”, and all calls are routed to voicemail. The ballot committee does not have a website or social media page.

Protect MI Vote has received $2.5 million — 90% of its revenue to date — from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based black money group that raised $390 million in 2020, according to statements revenue obtained by OpenSecrets. The Sixteen Thirty Fund was the largest funder of other black money groups funding liberal super PACs in the 2020 election cycle, OpenSecrets reported.

Protect MI Vote has donated $1.8 million to Fieldworks, LLC, a campaign field company with offices in Washington, DC and Michigan. The same company received payments from the Michigan House and Senate Democratic Fund and Promoting the Vote, which championed constitutional amendments in 2018 that allowed direct voting, same-day voter registration, and mail-in voting. unapologetically, among other things, show past campaign deposits.

Naomi Seligman, spokesperson for Protect MI Vote, did not respond directly whether the group had transparency issues regarding its donors.

“Protect MI vote is grateful to all of our donors and supporters, including Sixteen Thirty Fund, who share our commitment to protecting Michigan voters’ access to the ballot box,” Seligman said in a statement. “We will continue to mobilize and invest the necessary resources to ensure Michigan voters are aware of the misleading nature of this initiative and the consequences to our freedom to vote.”

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