Michigan mega-donors hedge bets in presidential race

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Michigan’s mega-donors gave more than $1.12 million to outside groups supporting the 2016 presidential candidates in January alone, as some divided their contributions among candidates not knowing who would survive and who would fade.

Dan Gilbert

The largest Michigan donation came from Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert, who donated $500,000 to Chris Christie’s America Leads super political action committee on Jan. 12 — about a month before the New Jersey governor exited the race Feb. 10 after finishing sixth in the New Hampshire primary.

It was in addition to the $750,000 he gave the pro-Christie group on June 30. Gilbert ended up spending $1.25 million on a Christie campaign that won zero delegates.

Gilbert gave $100,000 on the same day, Jan. 12, to Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s New Day for America.

By comparison, contributions to the candidates’ committees totaled nearly $680,000 or more than half of the giving to super PACs, according to a Detroit News analysis of Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service data.

Unlike campaign committees, which are limited to raising $2,700 per donor, super PACs may accept unlimited contributions in support of a candidate as a result of a Supreme Court ruling in 2010.

“It just perfectly illustrates what’s happening with the fundraising nationwide,” said Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

“Here you have candidate committees bringing in hundreds upon hundreds of dollars — some people giving $200, some giving $2,700 — and that can be quickly overwhelmed by what’s coming in on the super PAC side.”

Most of Michigan’s direct giving to candidate campaigns in January focused on the Democratic race. About 60 percent or more than $400,000 of the nearly $680,000 in donations went to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

But the biggest contributions were divvied up among competing super PACs.

Grand Rapids’ Richard DeVos, Amway’s co-founder and owner of the Orlando Magic, gave $250,000 on Jan. 19 to Right to Rise, the super PAC supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. On the same day, DeVos gave $250,000 to Conservative Solutions PAC, which is affiliated with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Richard DeVos’ son Dick told The Detroit News Thursday that the family has now committed to backing Rubio.

Kasich’s campaign received $1,000 in late November from Matthew C. Moroun, whose family owns the Ambassador Bridge and a vast amount of other private real estate in Michigan. Moroun also gave $1,000 on Dec. 31 to Rubio’s campaign.

“They’re hedging their bets,” said John Truscott, a Lansing-based public relations expert and former spokesman for three-term Republican Gov. John Engler.

“A lot of people like multiple candidates, so they’ll give to both. That way, hopefully, they’ve given to who they perceive will be the eventual person to come out on top.”

Support not done shifting

Mauger and Truscott both noted that, when published, the spending reports in February will likely show support shifting again, as donors make decisions based on who hangs on in the narrowing GOP field.

“Anybody who was waiting to see how the landscape would shape up, you know a lot more in February than you did in November and December,” Truscott said.

An example is Bush. As his standings in the polls slipped last year, Michigan donors to his Right to Rise super PAC largely stopped writing checks. They gave about $20,000 in the second half of 2015 — down from $1.39 million in the first six months of the year.

Right to Rise’s fundraising slowed nationally in January and brought in $379,000, with DeVos’ $250,000 donation accounting for the bulk of the haul. Bush’s campaign last month raised less than $20,000 in Michigan. He quit the race Saturday.

In direct giving to candidate’s campaigns, Clinton won the Michigan money race in January, raising nearly $256,700. She benefited from a Jan. 12 Detroit fundraiser featuring singer Michael Bolton.

The second-largest Michigan haul belong to Sanders of Vermont at $155,000.

The biggest total for a GOP campaign in Michigan for January was $68,500 for Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, followed by Detroit native Dr. Ben Carson with just over $63,000 and Rubio with $51,700, according to FEC reports of individual contributions of $200 or more.

Trump gets small donations

GOP frontrunner Donald Trump raised $4,517 from Michiganians in January, bringing his total in the state to more than $27,000 for the election cycle.

The bombastic billionaire has boasted that he is mostly spending his own money on his campaign but has benefited from major free media on cable television and other broadcast outlets.

Trump’s contributors in Michigan so far haven’t included any big-name donors, but they include retirees and small business owners. They include Jack Plate, owner of Ross Design & Engineering in Somerset outside of Jackson, who last year gave $1,053 to Trump’s campaign.

Kasich is hoping to win big in Michigan and his home state of Ohio, but his January campaign fundraising in the Great Lakes State was $9,400.

Michigan donors gave more generously to Kasich’s New Day for America super PAC, including $25,000 in October from Edward Levy of Edward C. Levy Co., a slag and aggregate company based in Dearborn; and $10,000 in January from Richard Blumenstein, an executive with the real estate firm Dover Development in Bingham Farms.

Levy also gave $25,000 to Rubio’s Conservative Solutions super PAC on Dec. 19. Another donation to Rubio’s group was $10,000 in January from TGGR Corp. of Grandville, which has previously given to the Florida Republican Party and Rubio’s PAC.

TGGR Corp. reported a Grandville address to the FEC that is the location of Mail Box Forwarding Inc., a company that rents mail boxes and provides mail-forwarding services to companies around the world, according to the BBB of Western Michigan.

John Stryker of Kalamazoo, an architect for Stream Line Circle LLC and one of Michigan’s wealthiest individuals, contributed $100,000 to the pro-Clinton group American Bridge 21st Century in September.

The anti-Clinton group Future45 brought in $25,000 from Michael Jandernoa, board member and former CEO of Perrigo, who is typically one of Michigan’s top campaign donors.

Future45 also received $50,000 from Kojaian Management Corp., whose owner, C. Michael Kojaian, was finance chairman of Bush’s Michigan campaign and a former President George W. Bush donor.


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