ACLU pours $1.25M into Michigan voter rights ballot fight

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Rev. Wendell Anthony of the Detroit NAACP speaks at a Promote the Vote event in Lansing.

The American Civil Liberties Union poured more than a million dollars into a ballot committee pushing for increased voting rights.

Promote the Vote received about $1.5 million in contributions in the second quarter, with roughly $1.25 million of the total coming from the ACLU, according to a campaign finance report filed Wednesday. The committee also received about $150,000 from the United Auto Workers union.

The contributions come as the ballot proposal waits whether state elections officials approve the initiative's eligibility for the November ballot. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow no-reason absentee voting by mail, registration to vote up to and on election day and guarantee continued straight-party voting.

The group submitted more than 430,000 signatures to the state on July 9.

Other large committee contributions in the second quarter include those made to committees pushing for a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave and an independent redistricting commission.

The MI Time to Care ballot committee advocating paid sick leave received roughly $390,000 in the second quarter, including large contributions from social welfare organization The Sixteen Thirty Fund and United Way for Southeast Michigan.

The ballot initiative would allow employees to earn an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

Michigan One Fair Wage received $325,000, including $225,000 from Restaurant Opportunities Center and $100,000 from a UAW group.

The ballot proposal would raise Michigan’s $9.25-an-hour minimum wage incrementally to $10 an hour in 2019, $10.65 in 2020, $11.35 in 2021 and $12 in 2022. Any future increases after 2022 would be tied to inflation. The proposal also would phase out by 2024 the lower wage rate for restaurant servers and other employees who receive tips.

Voters Not Politicians raised roughly $373,000 in the second quarter, including $100,000 from a UAW group and $250,000 from the Action Now Initiative, a political advocacy group funded by hedge fund manager John Arnold.

Ballot opposition committees had more modest contributions in the second quarter.

Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, the group opposing the redistricting proposal, received roughly $20,000 from a Michigan real estate agents' political action committee.

Michigan Opportunity, a group opposing the minimum wage proposal, received roughly $202,000 in contributions, including thousands from the National Restaurant Association, the Michigan Restaurant Association, Boyne Resorts, Sysco Corp. and restaurant holding companies in southeast Michigan.

Small Business for Better Michigan, a group challenging signatures for the paid sick leave proposal, received roughly $80,500 in contributions this year, $80,000 of which came within the past three months. Contributors included the Small Business Association of Michigan political action committee, the Michigan Manufacturers Association, the Michigan Restaurant Associaiton and the Michigan Bankers Association.

Both Michigan Opportunity and Small Business for Better Michigan have challenged the eligibility of the minimum wage and paid sick leave ballot proposals. The Board of State Canvassers is expected to rule Thursday on the proposals.

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