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Michigan House members rake in major fundraising hauls to start year

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
U.S. Reps. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, left, and Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly

Washington — Two Michigan Democratic freshman lawmakers raked in huge hauls during the first three months of the year, each raising over $500,000 toward their re-election campaigns.

U.S. Reps. Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills and Elissa Slotkin of Holly — both of whom flipped Republican-held seats last fall — raised over $575,600 and $539,000, respectively. They are expected to face potentially tough GOP challengers in 2020, especially since national Republicans have been criticizing their early moves in Congress.

Other top fundraisers for the quarter included House members in competitive districts: Reps. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton ($367,716); Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph ($323,377); and Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit ($316,720).

Craig Mauger of the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network noted that Stevens and Slotkin raised more than did the congressmen who held their seats during the same period in 2017 — Reps. Dave Trott of Birmingham and Mike Bishop of Rochester.

“And the 2018 U.S. House races ended up being the most expensive Michigan has seen,” Mauger said. “The numbers point to the importance of Michigan’s U.S. House seats in the 2020 election.”

Slotkin ended the quarter with $448,162 cash on hand. Her donors included former Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Ford Motor Co. director Edsel B. Ford II; and Robin Hickenlooper, wife of former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is now running for president.

Stevens had $441,093 in the bank as of March 31. Her campaign received a $2,000 contribution from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s campaign, as well as $1,000 from Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has ignited controversy for remarks that critics have called anti-Semitic.

Stevens also received donations from Steve Rattner, her former boss on President Obama’s auto task force; Cecilia Munoz, former domestic policy adviser to former President Barack Obama; former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard; and Adam Faberman, a writer on the TV show “Big Bang Theory."

“A lot of incumbents can expand their fundraising network once they’re in office,” said David Dulio, who chairs the political science department at Oakland University.

“But, as the examples of the Pelosi and Omar contribution make pretty clear, they can also be fodder for opponents. That ad writes itself from the NRCC,” added Dulio, referring to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The NRCC and the Michigan Republican Party both took notice of the donations. The Michigan GOP issued a statement attacking Stevens, referring to her January vote for Pelosi to be speaker.

“Congresswoman Haley Stevens is for sale. First, she sold out and became Pelosi’s puppet for a mere $2,000. Then she sold out her own principles to progressive extremist Ilhan Omar for $1,000," Michigan GOP Chair Laura Cox said.

"It's clear that Congresswoman Stevens is more concerned about playing ball in Washington and trying to get re-elected than she is about her promises to the people of Michigan."  

Pelosi and Omar weren’t the only House members to give to Stevens, who serves as co-president of the freshman class.

She also drew support from House colleagues’ campaigns and leadership political action committees, including Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland; and Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee. 

Walberg, who raised more than every other Republican in the state delegation, has faced well-funded Democrat Gretchen Driskell for the last two cycles, winning re-election by 7.6 percentage points in 2018. He had $335,362 cash on hand as of March 31.

Upton, who won re-election by the smallest margin ever last year, also appears to be off to a strong start, despite the persistent rumors he might retire. He had $310,286 in the bank as the quarter closed.  

On the Senate side, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, reported more than $1.89 million in receipts for the quarter, finishing with over $3 million in the bank. 

Large campaign war chests this early in the fundraising cycle for incumbents could ward off potentially challengers, Dulio said.

“Many of these elected officials in Michigan are gearing up for 2020 because they see the potential for tough races — whether that’s in the primary or the general,” he said.

But Tlaib's early fundraising success won't necessarily ward off a Democratic primary challenge in 2020. The 42-year-old Arab American narrowly defeated Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones 31.2 percent to 30.2 percent or by 900 votes.

A civil rights icon, Rep. John Conyers Jr., represented the predominantly African-American district for more than a half century.

Tlaib has received national headlines for defending Omar and embracing initiatives such as New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal.

Republicans have accused the self-declared democratic socialists of taking over the Democratic Party's agenda, but Pelosi has dismissed the idea.

The California Democrat told CBS' "60 Minutes" this week that "I do reject socialism as an economic system. If people have that view, that's their view. That is not the view of the Democratic Party."