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Outside group funding sets governor's race record

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Outside groups accounted for 75 percent of the nearly $48 million spent on TV ads this year trying to influence Michigan's governor's race — a record amount of so-called "dark money" donations that don't get disclosed under the state's campaign finance laws.

The Democratic Governors Association poured $15.4 million into a failed campaign to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and boost the campaign of Democrat Mark Schauer.

The incumbent governor was aided by $10.4 million from the Republican Governors Association and $5.7 million from the Michigan Republican Party in ads attacking Schauer, according to TV spending data compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

This year's total spent on TV ads is the second most in state history, trailing the $54 million spent in the 2006 gubernatorial donnybrook between then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm and billionaire Dick DeVos.

Campaign finance watchdog Rich Robinson said outside groups are exploiting legal loopholes to bypass disclosure through the state Bureau of Elections more than ever before.

"While it is not a record (in total spent), the spending by 'independent groups' is a record," said Robinson, who culls the data from public records from numerous TV stations and cable companies. "We're getting way into this culture now."

Independent groups spent $36.6 million on gubernatorial TV ads this year — more than double the $18 million outside interests spent in 2006, according to Robinson.

Under federal law, the DGA and RGA don't have to disclose their spending until early next year through tax information submitted to the IRS.

But even then, the groups don't have to fully disclose where they got their money and neither does the Michigan Republican Party, Robinson said.

"This Republican Party money is authentic dark money," Robinson said. "The idea of campaign disclosure, it's not a functioning thing in this state."

For the RGA, though, $4 million of that group's $10 million was raised through a Michigan-based political action committee and then sent to the national organization in Washington, D.C., to spend on TV ads, records show.

Change due to '10 decision

Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, said the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in the Citizens United case allowing corporations and unions to give unlimited amounts of money to third-party groups has caused donors to move their money away from publicly reported candidate and political action committees.

"More and more outside and third party groups will be the primary source of funding for federal and gubernatorial races in the future," Anuzis said.

Anuzis said the big spending by outside groups illustrates the need to eliminate the $6,800 cap an individual can contribute to a candidate for governor and the $68,000 limit placed on donations from independent political committees.

That would encourage more direct contributions to the candidates themselves instead of outside groups, Anuzis said.

"I think the country would be better off and I think the citizens would be better involved if we had unlimited donations and instant disclosure," Anuzis said.

Prior to his re-election bid, Snyder doubled Michigan's campaign spending caps last year through legislation that also shielded the donors of so-called "issue ads" from being publicly disclosed.

3rd party spending close

Snyder's campaign committee outspent Schauer's more than 2 to 1 on TV ads, $7.7 million to $3.3 million, according to the campaign finance network's data.

But in accounting for third party spending, the two campaigns were more evenly matched, with Snyder and his allies spending about $26.6 million to the $21 million spent on TV ads by Schauer and his supporters.

"It just shows that DGA and groups like that were just as committed," said Kyle Robertson, Snyder's campaign manager. "Money was not an issue for team Schauer."

A Schauer campaign spokesman declined to comment Wednesday.

Snyder prevailed over Schauer by 128,130 votes, 51 percent to 47 percent, according to unofficial results.

"From January until Election Day it was always a close race from the viewpoint of where the money was," Robertson said in an interview Wednesday. "The notion that this race all of sudden tightened was unbeknownst to the people who were spending millions of dollars on both sides."

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