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GOP super PACs break ‘new ground’ in Mich. gov race

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Brian Calley and Bill Schuette are getting a big boost from super political action committees that have each collected nearly $1 million in business leader and corporate contributions to support their candidacies.

The Calley Continues the Comeback super PAC raised $875,000 in a little more than one month after forming in March, according to a new disclosure report filed Wednesday with the Michigan secretary of state. A pro-Schuette super PAC had raised $936,507 through the April 20 reporting deadline.

The Calley Continues the Comeback super PAC raised $875,000 in a little more than one month after forming in March, according to a new disclosure report filed Wednesday with the Michigan secretary of state. A pro-Schuette super PAC had raised $936,507 through the April 20 reporting deadline.

The committees have aired television and online attack ads in an increasingly bitter GOP primary featuring the lieutenant governor and attorney general, who are seeking to succeed term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder.

Candidate-specific super PACs are “new ground” for Michigan gubernatorial elections, said Craig Mauger of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. They were made possible by a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision protecting political corporate spending as free speech and a 2017 state law that established new rules.

“Our campaign finance system has changed in the last eight years, and we haven’t had a competitive gubernatorial primary election since 2010,” Mauger said.

The super PAC activity adds to what is expected to be one of the most expensive Michigan gubernatorial races ever. Candidate committees had nearly raised a collective $17 million through the end of 2017.

The Better Jobs Stronger Families super PAC, which has exclusively supported Schuette since its formation in late 2017, has received hefty $250,000 contributions from former Compuware CEO Peter Karmanos, Kojaian Properties real estate management firm of Bloomfield Hills and Oakland Financial Corporation of Sterling Heights.

The Calley Continues the Comeback super PAC reported $250,000 contributions from Terry Adderley, chairman of Kelly Services temporary worker firm in Bloomfield Hills, and William Parfet, a longtime Snyder donor and former chairman of MPI Research in Mattawan.

While candidate committees are limited to $6,800 contributions and cannot accept corporate cash, super PACs can field unlimited individual or corporate contributions.

In the latest reporting period, the pro-Schuette super PAC also received $150,000 from the Penske Corp. of Bloomfield Hills, a $125,000 contribution for Ciena Healthcare President Mohammad Qazi and three other $100,000 contributions.

While they share similar messaging, Better Jobs Stronger Families is an “independent organization” that operates independently of the Schuette campaign, said Stu Sandler, a Republican political strategist who helps run the super PAC.

“Bill Schuette has done a great job organizing his campaign, and I think people want to be supportive of efforts that are supportive of him,” Sandler said.

The 2017 law signed by Snyder didn’t just codify the Citizens United ruling for Michigan elections. It also wrote new rules allowing political candidates to solicit contributions to super PACs, which can also share vendors and attorneys with campaigns.

The pro-Schuette super PAC and his campaign both use the same fundraising consultant. Sandler & Associates, a Clawson-based firm headed by Bryce Sandler, was paid $25,000 by the super PAC in March and more than $14,000 by the campaign in November. Bryce and Stu Sandler are not related.

FP1 Strategies, a firm based in Washington, D.C., made $97,100 doing video production for the Schuette campaign. Its digital business spin-off made $40,000 doing online ads and web production for the super PAC.

Disclosure records for Calley Continues the Comeback show Fox Ventures President Dan DeVos, who helps head the Calley campaign finance committee, this month donated $200,000 to the super PAC. Alro Steel, the lone direct corporate contributor, kicked in $75,000.

The early fundraising pace is “a testament to the record (Calley) and Gov. Snyder amassed in leading the Michigan comeback,” said super PAC strategist Jordan Gehrke.

The pro-Calley super PAC has run ads attacking “Shady Schuette,” a nickname for his GOP rival that has also been used by Calley’s campaign spokesman and liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan.

But the super PAC is “firewalled off” and not legally allowed to coordinate or communicate with the campaign, Gehrke said.

Complementing Calley campaign messaging is not difficult, he explained. “In some cases, I think it would be more complicated … but when you have a record that is impressive to run on, the case kind of speaks for itself,” Gehrke said.

State filings do not reveal any shared vendors between the Calley campaign and super PAC, which instead has connections to other independent groups also supporting his campaign.

Calley Continues the Comeback paid Del Cielo Media of Virginia $98,112 for a media purchase. MIPAC, a separate independent committee, paid the firm $40,000 for radio ads supporting Calley for governor. Del Ceilo also handled more than $460,000 in media buys for RPA PAC, a Snyder committee that has run ads promoting Calley.

Strategic Perception of California has produced ads for the pro-Calley super PAC, MIPAC, and the Clean MI petition committee that Calley launched in an attempt to put a part-time Legislature proposal on the 2018 ballot. The ballot effort ultimately failed.

State records show Michael Stroud was listed as treasurer of the independent MIPAC committee until April 12. The Calley campaign reimbursed his company $1,978 for printing cards in December.

There are no candidate-specific super PACs supporting Democrats yet this year, but allies of gubernatorial hopeful Gretchen Whitmer recently formed a separate 527 advocacy group that will be required to file disclosure reports with the Internal Revenue Service.

Mark Burton, Whitmer’s chief of staff when she served as state Senate minority leader, will lead the Build a Better Michigan organization. Spokeswoman Annie Ellison left the Whitmer campaign to serve as communication director.

527s have “long been a staple of gubernatorial elections in Michigan,” Mauger said, noting groups like the Democratic Governors Association and Republican Governors Association have spent big bucks here in past elections.

Independent expenditure groups are also pumping money into the gubernatorial race in new ways, Mauger said.

Candidates are not supposed to work in “cooperation” or in “concert” with the groups. But Calley has personally appeared in ads run by Snyder’s PAC and MIPAC, which has a new spot that directs viewers to “join Rick Snyder” and “vote Brian Calley for governor.”

The non-profit Fund for Michigan’s Tomorrows recently started running an “issue advocacy” ad that features Schuette but does not explicitly direct viewers to vote for him, which exempts it from state funding disclosure rules.

“This is new ground we’re stepping into,” Mauger said of early spending and PAC activity in the 2018 gubernatorial election. “A lot of this is going to be tested, maybe not for the first time, but tested anew to see where the new boundaries are.”