Investigative
7:00 am
Mon March 5, 2012

Money Talks: Out-of-state influence on Michigan voters

Michigan’s Republican presidential primary elections are over.  But, primary elections for federal and state legislators are in August.

Already out-of-state groups are spending tons of money to influence Michigan voters.

Big money often buys votes. Usually, that includes a lot of big money from out-of-state groups.

“Well, outside money defeated me. Club for Growth came in with somewhere between a million and a million-and-a-half dollars, " says Joe Schwarz, a former Republican Member of Congress. He was considered not conservative enough for Club for Growth, a conservative political action group made up of a lot of Wall Street millionaires and run by a former congressman.

“As a result of that very significant investment, ads purchased and placed by Club for Growth, I lost a primary. And that’s where Club for Growth comes in. Primaries are a different election,” Schwarz explained.

Club for Growth has a reputation for running ads against Republican politicians whom it considers not fiscally conservative enough. They often target them during the Republican primaries because that’s when the votes of the party faithful, often the most conservative, have the greatest effect.

This year one of the targets is Congressman Fred Upton in Michigan’s 6th Congressional district in the southwest part of the state. Upton is being challenged by Jack Hoogendyk in the Republican primary.

Joe Schwarz says that’s not good for Michigan because Upton chairs a powerful House committee important to business.

“The Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee for goodness sakes! One of the most respected Members of Congress and has been nothing but helpful to this state and they’re going after him.”

Until a couple of years ago, Representative Upton had a fairly moderate voting record. But once he became Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, his positions shifted to the right. He’s taking his marching orders from the Republican leadership.  According to a blog published in The Hill, a newspaper focused on Congress, as Chair, Upton has fought President Obama’s health care plan, become more conservative on energy issues, and has put pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency.

Which makes the ad Club for Growth is running sound –well- a little weird.

What's liberal Congressman Fred Upton been doing? He voted to bail out Wall Street and make Fannie May and Freddie Mac bigger, supported billions in wasteful earmark spending like Alaska's 'Bridge to Nowhere,' increased the debt limit by trillions while raising his own pay by thousands. Fred Upton's been wasting our tax dollars in Washington for 25 long years. That's enough. -Club for Growth Action is responsible for the content of this advertising.

 

The Truth Squad at the Center for Michigan recently called a ‘foul’ on that ad.

(sound of group reciting the Pledge of Allegiance)

At a Rotary Club luncheon in Paw Paw, Michigan, Congressman Upton was asked about PACs and super PACs such as Club for Growth.

“They’re there. You’ve seen some ads against me, right?”

Upton explained he’d voted for the McCain-Feingold bill that increased regulations and restrictions on political money.  But that’s unraveled over the last few years. After a couple of  Supreme Court decisions, super PACs and others are free to spend as much outside money as they want in so-called voter education ads in Michigan and other states.

“Well, you know, it’s a free country and that’s just the way that it is.”

LG: How do you think this outside money changes the dynamics of a –especially a primary race?

“The rules have changed quite a bit because of the Supreme Court ruling and it is what it is.”

Congressman Upton says the only way this new era of big money spending in political campaigns by outside sources is going to change now is by an amendment to the Constitution.

This idea of a Constitutional amendment is around. President Obama supports it. A website called movetoamend.org is up and running.

And it’s been proposed in a new book by Lawrence Lessig entitled Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress--and a Plan to Stop It. (see lecture video)

Lessig is a professor at the Harvard Law School.

He says whether it’s his plan or another, to end big money in politics it will likely take a Constitutional amendment. He doesn’t see members of Congress introducing such a measure.  So, he says the states will have to call on Congress to convene a convention where amendments could be proposed and then sent to the states for ratification. That approach has never been used in the history of the nation.

“Either Congress will wake up and fix the problems that the states are responding to or the momentum will grow enough that we can in fact convene a convention that could propose the kind of amendments that could end the corrupting influence in Washington.”

It’s tough enough to get a Constitutional amendment passed the usual way. Last time it happened was in 1992 on a proposal first introduced in 1789.

Meanwhile back in the Michigan 6th congressional district, Congressman Upton is getting some help to counter the Club for Growth ads. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce ran some ads earlier this year.

Out of state groups have attacked Fred Upton. So, call and thank him for standing up for us.

Rich Studley is the President and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. He says keeping Upton in office is good for the state.

“It is a great benefit to Michigan to have the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton, be a part of our Congressional delegation rather than be a minority member or a rookie member on a very large committee.”

Studley says these ads placed by out-of-state groups should be allowed, but voters should make sure they understand who’s paying for them.

“Who is really behind those ads, whether they’re liberal or conservative, business or labor. Those are all fair questions for people to ask.”

And Studley was pretty happy that partners at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are pitching in. Now, there’s some more out-of-state money supporting Fred Upton.

Call Congressman Fred Upton. Tell him to keep fighting against job-killing policies. -The U.S. Chamber is responsible for the content of this advertising.

So, outside money for Upton, outside money against Upton from PACs and super PACs.

But, it doesn’t end there.

David Magelby is Dean of Political Science at Brigham Young University. Currently he's a visiting scholar at the University of Michigan.

He says the way it is now, a corporation or a union can go beyond just raising money, but actually spending their profits, what’s in their bank accounts  to help put candidates into office.

“The thought that Microsoft could get involved in presidential elections or a U.S. Senate race in Michigan and bring to bear the kinds of resources they have just in their profit margins is staggering. That’s the world we’re in now. Now, whether that will happen is an open question, but that is now possible.”

So corporations or unions could be running ads, selling politicians like McDonald’s sells hamburgers.

And we’re left with suspicions and questions. What effect would there be on public policy after those candidates are elected?  Would policy reflect the voters’ interests or the interests of their corporate sponsors?