Conservative group spending $1.2M to defeat Proposal 2 redistricting commission

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
A growing number of states are considering changing the criteria or methods used to draw congressional and state legislative districts.

Lansing — A conservative group with ties to the powerful DeVos family of West Michigan is pumping at least $1.2 million into an effort to fight a ballot measure for an independent redistricting commission.

The spending by the Michigan Freedom Fund was disclosed Monday in a late contribution report filed by Protect My Vote, a committee that is already running radio ads against Proposal 2 and is set this week to launch television ads.

"We certainly are committed to defeating Proposal 2, and this is a step in that direction," said Tony Daunt, who is leading the opposition committee and is executive director of the Freedom Fund.

The proposal would create a commission including four  Democrats, four Republicans and five self-identified independents to draw political boundaries every 10 years, a process the GOP-led Legislature controlled in 2001 and 2011.

Supporters say the initiative would discourage “gerrymandering" by lawmakers for political gain, but Daunt argued the proposal is overly complex and would give a "blank check" to the commission that would increase state spending. 

Voters Not Politicians, the committee supporting the ballot initiative, had spent roughly $1.5 million on broadcast ads of last week Monday, said Craig Mauger, a watchdog with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

While opponents were slow to organize, the late contribution report suggests they will be aggressive in the final two weeks of the campaign. Daunt said the group has already worked with a vendor to reserve television air time and will announce details Wednesday about new ads.

Elizabeth Battiste, a spokeswoman for Voters Not Politicians, criticized the funding for the opposition group. 

"We know that special interest groups like the Michigan Freedom Fund stand to lose the most if voters choose to end the current rigged system of politicians and lobbyists drawing election lines in secret to benefit themselves," she said in a statement.

Daunt said the new opposition committee also has concerns with Proposal 3, which would expand absentee voting and registration options, but is focused on defeating the redistricting committee initiative.

Individual donors to the opposition group are not yet known and it’s unclear how well funded the group will beyond the Freedom Fund contribution. A more detailed campaign finance report is due to the state by the end of the week. 

“We’re certainly beating the bushes and we’ll use the resources that we have available to us in the most effective and efficient way possible,” Daunt said last week.

The Freedom Fund, which includes multiple non-profit organizations, has longstanding ties to the DeVos family. Family members contributed a combined $250,000 to a separate but affiliated Freedom Network independent political action committee between April 21 and July 20, according to state records. 

Voters Not Politicians began as a grassroots effort has pulled in big bucks ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

The committee had raised $1.49 million through July 20 and last month received a $250,000 contribution from an offshoot of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, an organization led by former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder.