Political Insider: Nonprofit organization picks up bill for Nessel PSAs

A recently formed nonprofit aiming to “lessen the financial burdens of the government" has paid for the majority of public service announcements out of Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office in recent months. 

Protecting Michigan Foundation, a 501(c)(3) formed in January 2021, has been sponsoring the videos and their promotion on platforms such as Facebook over the past year.

Nessel is featured in most of the videos, which tend to be comedic or seasonal reminders of consumer protection issues such as gas-gouging, fraudulent gift card offers, puppy scams, toy recalls, tax scams and robocalls. 

Other PSAs have focused on more serious topics, such as the reporting and investigation of sexual abuse. 

A screenshot from Attorney General Dana Nessel's public service announcement on sexual abuse reporting and investigation posted to the Facebook page of Protecting Michigan Foundation Tuesday, March 8, 2022. The 501(c)(3) has been paying for PSAs produced by Nessel's office for more than a year.

Protecting Michigan Foundation covers the cost of production of the videos in order “to raise awareness of consumer protection issues,” Nessel’s spokeswoman Lynsey Mukomel said in a statement.

The group, according to its attorney Alan Wilk, was founded to “receive and administer funds for the benefit of charitable purposes and to lessen the financial burdens of the government of the State of Michigan.” It also is meant to “raise funds from the general public to finance certain expenses that would otherwise be incurred by Michigan taxpayers.”

Protecting Michigan Foundation also supports “educational, charitable, and community projects that promote the economic, social, and public welfare of the State of Michigan, its communities, citizens and visitors,” Wilk wrote.

It’s not clear how much Protecting Michigan Foundation has spent on the PSAs, but the group has dropped at least $4,000 to promote the videos on Facebook, according to the social media site’s ad library. 

The nonprofit’s donors are shielded from disclosure under federal tax law. Wilk did not disclose the group's donors nor release the names of the non-profit’s officers, trustees or directors.

Under federal tax law, a 501(c)(3) is “absolutely prohibited” from participating in a political campaign on behalf of any candidate. But the law allows some activities, such as voter education, if they are conducted in a non-partisan manner and do not favor or oppose any one candidate. 

Scholten picked for Red to Blue

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is zeroed in on west Michigan, adding candidate Hillary Scholten of Grand Rapids to its competitive Red to Blue program, which offers candidates fundraising, communications and other strategic support.

Scholten, a lawyer and mom of two, is running in the new 3rd District for a swing seat held by U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids Township. After redistricting, the 3rd District covers the Grand Rapids, Grand Haven and Muskegon areas. 

Hillary Scholten, Democrat, running for the Michigan 3rd Congressional District, campaigns during a get-out-the-vote rally with staff and supporters at Kent County Democratic headquarters in Grand Rapids, just a few weeks ahead off the U.S. general election.

Democratic leaders see a potential opportunity there to flip a GOP-held seat, in part because the new district lines are friendlier to Democrats. They also think Meijer could be in trouble in the primary challenge from his right from John Gibbs, who's been endorsed by former President Donald Trump

Scholten lost to Meijer in the old 3rd District 47% to 53% when the seat was open in 2020. That contest was the most expensive U.S. House race in Michigan that year, totaling $16.1 million in candidate and outside spending, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. 

Scholten picked up an endorsement Friday by EMILY's List, an influential political action committee that supports Democratic women supportive of abortion rights. Scholten would be the first woman ever elected to the Grand Rapids area seat, if successful. 

K-12 Alliance visits Capitol Hill 

Members of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan, which advocates for public schools, was on Capitol Hill this week to encourage lawmakers to boost funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which Congress has long underfunded despite plans to provide 40% of per-pupil costs. 

Five members of the group, including executive director Robert McCann, met with U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee. 

The Alliance urged Scott to hold a hearing on full funding for the IDEA, which requires that children with disabilities be provided a free appropriate public education to eligible kids. Scott listened but was non-committal at this time, McCann said. 

"The good news is that Michigan's delegation is so supportive of this effort, whether er'e talking to democrats or republicans,, and we'll continue to press for this," McCann said. whether wer'e talking to democrats or republicans, they're 

He was disappointed to learn that the $1.6 trillion omnibus government funding package that passed last week only included a 3.5% bump for IDEA grants to $400 million, but McCann noted is not enough to keep pace with recent inflation.

"It's a functional cut when you're talking about school districts' spending power," McCann said. "It's minimal at best and functionally inadequate."

The group is supporting legislation would introduce regular increases in IDEA spending over a number of years.