Mich. donors give $3.8M to presidential groups

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Ten Michigan donors each have given $100,000 or more to outside groups supporting Republican presidential candidates, as the super political action committees and other independent spending groups raised more than $3.78 million in the state.


The largest Michigan donation, $750,000, came from Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert on June 30 to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s America Leads PAC. In late June, a group tied to Ohio Gov. John Kasich called New Day for America received $500,000 from Mad Dog Technology CEO Peter Karmanos, co-founder of Detroit-based Compuware.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise PAC has benefited the most so far from generous Michigan donors, who contributed a total $1.39 million through June 30. It is nearly 14 percent of Right to Rise’s total fundraising for 2015 and more than 35 percent of Michigan’s total super PAC giving.

Nationwide, nearly a third of the money raised from mega-donors came from 56 donors who gave $1 million or more, and more than half the money raised came from 474 donors who gave $100,000 or more to independent super PACs, according to a Campaign Finance Institute analysis.

Unlike campaign committees, which are limited to raising $2,700 per donor, super PACs may accept unlimited contributions in support of a candidate as a result of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case.

Six donors contributed the bulk of Right to Rise’s haul in Michigan: $310,123 from Kojaian Management Corp., whose owner, C. Michael Kojaian, is finance chairman of Bush’s Michigan campaign and a former President George W. Bush donor; $250,000 from Roger Penske, chairman of truck leasing giant Penske Corp.; and $200,000 from Suburban Automotive Consultants in Troy, headed by CEO David Fischer, who was a prominent backer of Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012.

Farmington Hills real estate developers Harold Beznos of Beztak, a former George W. Bush fundraiser, and Mickey Shapiro, the largest private landowner in Oakland County, each gave $100,000 to Right to Rise. Detroit’s Pressure Vessel Service Chemicals, a company run by longtime Republican donor Jim Nicholson and his family, contributed $100,000, as well.

The super PAC had 36 donors from Michigan this year, including a committee contribution from GOP state Rep. Mike McCready of Bloomfield Hills, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Despite the unprecedented pace of early giving by wealthy donors, Michigan’s traditional mega-donors are off to a modest start, said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

They include the DeVos family and Mike Jandernoa, board member and former CEO of Perrigo, who is typically one of Michigan’s top donors.

Three members of the conservative DeVos family each gave $25,000 to Bush’s Right to Rise. The family also gave $75,000 total to a group affiliated with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called Our American Revival. Jandernoa hadn’t donated to the presidential campaigns as of June 30.

“In the context of more than $110 million raised so far by million-dollar donors, it looks to me like a lot of the preferences of Michigan donors have not been made known,” Robinson said.

He speculated that some Michigan donors are waiting to see how candidates perform at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference next month before deciding whom to support.

Six Republican candidates — Bush, Walker, Kasich, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and U.S. Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas — are scheduled to speak at Mackinac Island.

“A lot of these candidates have a lot of money coming from a very small base of support,” Robinson said. “It just makes politics very different because you don’t have to have a breadth of support to slog on. All you need is a couple patrons with a fat checkbook.”

David Dulio, who chairs the political science department at Oakland University, said Michigan’s big donors are “keeping their powder dry.”

“I think we could see a lot of these folks wait until the field narrows a bit to see which of the Midwestern governors performs the best during the next couple of debates,” Dulio said. “No one wants to give money to a loser and, with 17 in the field, there’s going to be a lot more losers than winners.”

Michiganians contributed another $989,000 to the presidential candidates’ campaign committees, including Democrats, as of June 30, according to FEC reports. Bush and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton led the pack with $332,650 and $225,534 raised, respectively.

The Republican with the widest grassroots appeal by far in Michigan and elsewhere is Ben Carson, the Detroit native and retired neurosurgeon whose two super PACs had nearly 2,500 donors from around the state. They contributed $144,273 total through June 30.

Sixty-five percent of Carson’s total primary campaign and super PAC fundraising has come from donations of $200 or less, according to the Campaign Finance Institute’s analysis.

The Institute also found that the $3.4 million raised by Carson’s super PACs from donors who gave $200 or less was nearly eight times what all other candidates’ super PACs combined had raised from small donors.

Universal Truckload Services of Warren, which is controlled by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun and son Matthew, donated $300,000 to Walker’s Unintimidated PAC in late June. The Morouns’ Central Transport LLC of Warren gave another $75,000 to Walker’s Our American Revival in March.

The 5-Hour Energy creator Manoj Bhargava’s investment firm ETC Capital LLC in Farmington Hills spread its support around.

In June, it gave to groups backing three candidates who are sitting governors: $150,000 to Christie’s American Leads PAC; $150,000 to Walker’s Unintimidated PAC; and $100,000 to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Believe Again PAC. ETC Capital has given generously to GOP state executives in the past, donating $2.5 million last year to the Republican Governors Association, according to reports filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

Jindal had two other Michigan donors, including $50,000 from Edward C. Levy Jr. of Edward C. Levy Co., a slag and aggregate company based in Dearborn; and $25,000 from J.C. Huizenga, chairman of the Huizenga Group in western Michigan.

Huizenga also gave $25,000 to the Walker group, Our American Revival, according to IRS reports.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s super PAC, Conservative Solutions, had one Michigan donation: $10,000 from TGGR Corp. of Grandville, which has previously given to the Florida Republican Party.

TGGR Corp. reported its address to the FEC as 2885 Sanford Avenue, S.W., in Grandville, which is the location of Mail Box Forwarding Inc., a company that rents mail boxes and provides mail-forwarding services to companies around the world, according to the BBB of Western Michigan.