Pro-Duggan super PAC biggest spender in Michigan

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — A super political action committee that supported Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s successful re-election bid raised nearly $900,000 through late October, the largest haul of its kind so far this year in Michigan.

State disclosure reports show Turnaround Detroit raised $864,500 between Jan. 1 and Oct. 20, which was less than the $1.4 million it raised during the same period in 2013 when Duggan first ran for mayor. This year’s Turnaround Detroit total ranked tops among all super PACs and third among all political action committees, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Super PACs, which can accept unlimited contributions from corporations and unions, are supposed to operate independently of the candidates they support.

Turnaround Detroit reported spending $782,923.44 since August as it worked to re-elect Duggan, whose official campaign fundraising totals also dwarfed those of his challenger, state Sen. Coleman Young II.

The super PAC spent money on television ads touting Duggan and claims to operate “as a support system for everyone and everything that contributes to the revival of the city of Detroit.”

Save Our City, a separate super PAC that supported Young for mayor, reported raising $35,005 through Oct. 22. A third super PAC called Detroit Community Impact, which spent in the District 6 City Council race, raised $60,100.

Duggan cruised to re-election on Nov. 7, winning 72 percent of the vote to Young’s 28 percent, according to unofficial results from the city.

The Detroit super PAC activity foreshadows a 2018 election cycle that could see record spending in Michigan as donors attempt to wield influence, said Campaign Financ Network watchdog Craig Mauger. Voters next year will decide a new governor, other statewide officers, all 110 legislators and a contested race for U.S. Senate.

“If it’s not the most expensive state election we have seen, it will be one of the most expensive ones,” Mauger said. “It also shows this trend that super PACs are going to be continuing to play a larger and larger role in our elections. You can see that in the Detroit mayoral race.”

While super PACs were already operating here legally following a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Michigan legislators wrote them into state law this year.

The pro-Duggan Turnaround Detroit also spent heavily in 2013, when the former Detroit Medical Center CEO ran a write-in primary campaign after failing to establish his residency in the city one full year before the election. The super PAC raised $1.4 million and spent $1.2 million by late October that year.

Top donors to Turnaround Detroit this year included Roger Penske, the entrepreneur and auto racing magnate who gave the super PAC $250,000 on Sept. 19.

Powering the Economy, a separate super PAC run by the Detroit Regional Chamber, gave $125,000 to Turnaround Detroit. Central Transport LLC, a company run by the powerful Moroun family that owns the Ambassador Bridge, gave $100,000.

The Morouns’ Central Transport was also the lone contributor to the Detroit Community Impact committee through Oct. 22. The super PAC sent out mailers opposing the re-election of 6th Detroit City Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez and supporting challenger Tyrone Carter.

Castaneda-Lopez won re-election over Carter 51 percent to 47 percent, according to unofficial results. The district is home to the Ambassador Bridge, where the Moroun family wants to build a six-lane replacement bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

In the mayoral race, the pro-Young Save Our City super PAC primarily reported small contributions from individuals, many from outside of Detroit. The largest donor during the most recent period was Curtis Scoon, a writer and producer with Snake Charmer Productions in Maryland who gave $10,000 on Oct. 7.

“Each candidate basically had a super PAC that was helping to support their efforts to get elected,” Mauger said. “In the case of Duggan, (the super PAC) raised a lot of money and was raising it very, very quickly.”

The trend could continue next year. Supporters have already created a super PAC to back Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette’s campaign for governor.

Michigan PACs are on a record fundraising pace for 2018, according to Mauger’s data, which includes traditional political action committees and legislative caucus committees.

All told, the 150 most active PACs in the state reported raising a combined $18.5 million through Oct. 20, he said. The previous high had been set four years ago, when top PACs raised a collective $16.7 million by this point.

The House Republican Campaign Committee has raised $1.6 million and the Senate Republican Campaign Committee has raised $1.1 million as the GOP looks to retain full control of the state Legislature.

The Michigan House Democratic Fund had raised $853,311 through Oct. 20, while the Michigan Senate Democratic Fund had raised $516,103.