Michigan GOP donors give big ahead of midterms

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Wealthy Michigan donors are spending big money to boost Republican groups focused on shoring up vulnerable congressional seats, as the GOP aims to minimize potential losses in the midterm elections.

Faced with a potential Democratic wave this fall and President Donald Trump’s lackluster approval rating, Republicans are contributing to national party and outside groups in a likely bid to help the GOP maintain its majority in Congress, analysts say.

“There’s obviously a lot of concern,” said Douglas Heye, a GOP consultant who served as communications director at the Republican National Committee in 2010 when Republicans recaptured the House in the midterm elections.

“It’s no surprise you’re seeing a lot of these donations coming in.”

Super political action committees are expected to pour tens of millions of dollars into competitive U.S. House and Senate races where they think their cash could move the needle. Examples are the Congressional Leadership Fund, which backs Republicans, or the House Majority PAC, which supports Democrats.

The DeVos family (Richard Sr., Suzanne, Douglas and Daniel) donated $350,000 late last year to the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is aligned with House leaders such as Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.

Kojaian Properties Inc., the Bloomfield Hills-based commercial development company, donated $50,000 to CLF, and Richard G. Haworth, former president and CEO of Haworth Inc., gave $25,000.

The Congressional Leadership Fund has already begun investing in Michigan, recently reserving $2.2 million worth of television airtime to support incumbent GOP Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester. Democratic challenger Elissa Slotkin of Holly has raised more money than Bishop for three straight quarters and holds a slim cash edge.

CLF previously opened a field office in Bishop’s district.

“There’s a lot of money in the system right now but, at the same time, Republican campaign fundraising has been kind of weak in general,” said Kyle Kondik, who studies congressional campaigns at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“There are Republican strategists worried publicly about that hard-money fundraising for candidates, which of course has specific limits set by the FEC. While some of these other groups don’t really have limits.”

Democrats are also writing large checks. Billionaire Jon Stryker of Kalamazoo, an heir to the Stryker Corp. medical devices fortune, this year alone donated $250,000 to the House Majority PAC and $250,000 to the Senate Majority PAC.

Stryker also gave more than $33,900 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and $150,000 to the Women Vote! super political action committee affiliated with the group EMILY’S List.

Heye noted that donors writing larger checks to a super political action committee might have more say over how the money gets spent than with making smaller donations to individual campaigns or party committees — both of which are limited.

“Also, you can have a bigger impact because you can donate more,” he said.

Party committees, like the National Republican Congressional Committee, will probably invest heavily in defending districts such as Michigan’s 11th, where GOP Rep. Dave Trott is retiring. The NRCC had more than $58.8 million in cash reserves at the end of March, and the DCCC had $57 million.

Matthew Moroun, the vice president of Central Transport whose family owns the Ambassador Bridge, has donated at least $100,000 directed to the NRCC through a joint fundraising vehicle, the Michigan Victory Fund, set up to support the NRCC and Bishop, according to campaign finance records.

Moroun and others have given large amounts in past election cycles, but for others this type of giving is new.

John C. Huizenga of the Huizenga Group in Grand Rapids has given more than $50,000 to the NRCC this cycle, and William C. Young, CEO of PlastiPak Packages in Plymouth, gave $50,000 to Team Ryan — Paul Ryan’s joint fundraising committee.

Compuware co-founder Peter Karmanos, the chairman of Mad Dog Technology in Birmingham, and his wife both contributed nearly $50,000 each to the Team Ryan, $33,900 each to the Republican National Committee and $10,000 total to Prosperity Action Inc.

Thomas Celani, president of the gaming company Luna Entertainment in Novi, contributed $33,900 to the National Republican Senate Committee in February.

Robert Kaiser, CEO of Gallagher-Kaiser Corp., gave $50,000 to the RNC in February, and Gary R. Broad, president of Detroit-based Midwest Steel, gave $33,000 to RNC in late December.

Vice President Mike Pence and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, have a joint fundraising committee called Protect the House that has been raising money for House candidates.

Pence was in Detroit for a March fundraiser tied to the NRCC’s Patriots Program, which boosts the fundraising efforts of targeted House candidates, including Bishop. McCarthy was also expected to attend.

Ann Arbor’s Jeffrey Capo, CEO of Victory Automotive Group; real estate investor Mickey Shapiro of Farmington Hills, Edward C. Levy Jr. of Edward C. Levy Co. in Dearborn; Mohammad Qazi of Ciena Healthcare Management; Robert Walters Jr. and Shawn M. Krause, president and executive vice president of Detroit-based Quicken Loans, respectively; and real estate developer Harold Beznos of Farmington Hills; each gave $50,000 to Protect the House around this time, according to FEC reports.