Michigan Watch

Investigative
7:00 am
Wed August 15, 2012

Bridging the border: Influence of money (part 3)

Ambassador Bridge from the Canadian side. The bridge owners have spent millions of dollars to influence the debate on whether a second bridge should be built by Canada and Michigan.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

The arguments for and against building a new bridge to Canada at Detroit, for the most part, have been pretty one-sided. The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are fighting it and spending tons of money in TV ads. 

If you watch TV at all, you’ve probably seen one of the Ambassador Bridge-sponsored ads criticizing plans for a new bridge.

“Governor Snyder says, ‘Send Canada the bill.’ But, the Canadians have other ideas.”

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Investigative
7:00 am
Tue August 14, 2012

Bridging the border: Who pays? (part 2)

Ambassador Bridge from the U.S. side. The bridge owners say there's no need for a new Canada/Michigan public/private bridge because the Ambassador can build a twin span.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

There’s been a lot of confusion about how much a new bridge across the Canadian border at Detroit might cost taxpayers. TV ads say it will cost Michigan taxpayers $100 million a year. The governor says it will cost Michigan nothing.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon August 13, 2012

Bridging the border: Do we need a new bridge? (part 1)

Artist's rendering of the New International Trade Crossing.
http://buildthedricnow.com

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says we need a new bridge to Canada. It will mean more trade and more and better jobs. Not everyone agrees, especially the owners of the single bridge in Detroit which connects Michigan to Canada.

Eight thousand trucks a day cross the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

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Politics & Government
5:03 pm
Fri August 10, 2012

Money talks, big players and the debate over a new bridge

Lester Graham

The question of whether to build a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario has been the source of ongoing conflict between Gov. Snyder and Matty Moroun, owner of the Ambassador Bridge Company.

Reporter Lester Graham, with Michigan Watch, will bring us a special five-part series on the debate about building a new bridge. The series begins on Monday August 13.

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Investigative
1:40 pm
Tue August 7, 2012

Bridging the Border

Michigan Radio will air a special five-part series on the debate about building a new bridge from Detroit to Canada.

Canada says it will pay for it. Governor Snyder says it will create more and better jobs in Michigan. Business, labor, and cities across the state are in favor of it. But the owners of the Ambassador Bridge say it's not needed. They say it's not free to Michigan taxpayers...and they say they will build a second span at their own expense.

The political intrigue, influence of money, and suspicions on every side are causing confusion about whether the bridge is needed and what it will actually cost Michigan.

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Investigative
5:15 pm
Thu July 12, 2012

Detroit Windsor Tunnel closing bad; bridge closing much worse

Ambassador Bridge closure would affect Michigan's economy.
user Mikerussell from Wikimedia Commons

Updated

A reported bomb threat closed the Detroit Windsor Tunnel today for several hours. Almost all of the tunnel’s traffic is passenger cars. Traffic was diverted to the only other alternative to cross the border, the Ambassador Bridge. Congestion slowed traffic.

It was certainly an inconvenience for travelers, but the economic impact of the tunnel closure was minimal.

However, if the Ambassador Bridge were closed for hours or days for any reason, it would be a much different story.

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Investigative
9:53 am
Thu July 12, 2012

Bridge: Some welfare recipients get reprieve; others struggle with welfare restructuring

Michigan Watch is working with the online magazine Bridge in a year-long collaboration, following families who were cut from welfare cash assistance by a Department of Human Services decision late last year. 

Some Michigan welfare recipients get reprieve

By Ron French/Bridge Magazine

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Investigative
7:00 am
Fri June 29, 2012

Money talks: Often, it's negative.

"Obamaville," and anti-Obama ad by the now defunct Santorum campaign made some viewers laugh. That probably was not the intended reaction.

This election year has seen a huge increase in the amount of money being spent on political campaigns compared to previous years. A lot of that money is being spent on negative political ads on TV.

As Michigan’s primary election gets closer, and the general election is only four months away, we’re going to see more and more political TV ads. And the bulk of those ads are going to be negative ads.

“I hear the negativity all the time. I’m tired of it. Tell me what it is you want to do not what you think the other guy is going to do," said Troy Hemphill.

“I don’t like to listen to that. I want some positive information," Kiirsten Olson insisted.

“Even when you think, ‘I’m not going to listen to negative ads, I’m not going to listen to negative ads,’ and then one creeps inside your brain. And then it sticks,” Shannon Rubago bemoaned.

Those are pretty typical responses of a couple of groups of people we talked to. We showed them a series of negative ads to see what their reactions would be.

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Investigative
7:30 am
Mon May 28, 2012

Money Talks: Political spending hiding in the file cabinet

Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Broadcasters are fighting a new rule to disclose more about who’s buying political ads. The Federal Communications Commission wants TV stations to post information about the political ads they air on a government website.

That will make it a lot easier to find out what groups are spending money to influence voters.

Recently, I met Rich Robinson in the parking lot of his office in Lansing. He was taking me on a little trip.

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Investigative
4:28 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

Money Talks: Even when the donors are secret

It appears a superPAC and other political groups are coordinating their purchases of TV ads running in Michigan.  This means a more efficient use of secret money to influence voters.

Michigan TV stations across the state are running a series of ads critical of President Obama and his administration.

Here's an example of one of the ads.

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Investigative
7:47 am
Mon May 7, 2012

Cutting business equipment tax will mean cuts to local governments and higher real estate taxes

The Michigan legislature will soon vote on whether to shift more of the state’s tax burden from business to households.  Last year the legislature and the governor shifted about one-and-a-half billion dollars in tax payments from small and medium sized businesses to retirees and the working poor. This year there’s a proposal to cut another business tax. That proposed tax cut could mean higher real estate taxes for homeowners and revenue cuts to local governments.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Wed May 2, 2012

Money Talks: But sometimes it hides

Lobbyists can pick up the tab for legislators. Some legislators welcome the favor, others decline.
user Biodun themedicalhealthplus.com

Elected state officials in Michigan can be more secretive about money than federal officials. At the state level, the disclosure laws on money and politics make it easier to hide conflicts of interest and influence on politicians.

When Governor Rick Snyder delivered his State of the State address last January, he tucked into it a quick mention about making state government more open.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Fri April 6, 2012

Struggling to survive after state cuts assistance

 Michigan Watch is working with the online magazine Bridge in a year-long collaboration, following families who were cut from welfare cash assistance by a Department of Human Services decision late last year. 

Eleven thousand Michigan families were cut from welfare cash assistance late last year. Cash assistance is the $500 a month or so that helps the poorest families pay their bills and rent.  The Department of Human Services says the state can’t afford the cost.  So, the agency cut off those who’d been on welfare the longest. Advocates for the poor say there’s no need for those cuts… there’s plenty of federal money to pay for the benefits.

While the agency and advocates argue and maneuver in court, thousands of families are in trouble. Here's one family's story.

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Politics
3:57 pm
Tue April 3, 2012

Michigan gets an "F" on "Corruption Risk Report Card"

Michigan fails the integrity test.
State Integrity Investigation

In the opening of his State Integrity Investigation piece, reporter Chris Andrews shows us why Michigan gets the failing grade:

The campaign finance system here has more holes than I-94 after a spring thaw. Big spenders and special interests can easily shovel millions of dollars into election activities — secretly if they choose... And the financial disclosure system for state elected officials?

Well actually, there isn’t one.

Welcome to Michigan, the “Trust Us” State when it comes to transparency. Reform efforts are frequently launched, sometimes debated, always shelved.

The State Integrity Investigation is a project of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.

The project aims to "expose practices that undermine trust in state capitols -- and spotlight the states that are doing things right."

You can see how all the states stack up here.

Clearly, Michigan is not going to make the highlight reel.

Overall, after looking at 330 specific measures of "state integrity," Michigan ranked 43rd among the 50 states.

And while Lansing has not been rocked by scandals seen in some other state capitols around the country, Andrews writes there are "glaring holes," when it comes to transparency in money spent to lobby lawmakers, and in the money spent to elect or defeat candidates in Michigan.

Michigan Supreme Court elections, a seat money can buy

How money can influence the perceived integrity, or the real integrity of an office was highlighted in a recent piece by Michigan Radio's Lester Graham.

In his Michigan Watch report, Money Talks: Campaign money and Supreme Court justice candidates, Graham illustrated how once a candidate wins a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court "no one really knows if a case is being decided strictly on the merits, or because of someone’s hidden political donation and its influence."

Graham spoke with former Michigan Supreme Court justice Betty Weaver about this:

“It isn’t just the appearance of impropriety, this money does have influence. Common sense tells you it does. I’ve been there,” said Weaver.

LG: Do you think you’ve seen on the court influence because of a large donor at one time or another?  

“Yes, I do think that the ability to control who gets appointed and who gets elected has an effect on the decisions of the court, so you can pretty well guess how it’s going to go,” said Weaver.

In his State Integrity Investigation piece on Michigan, Chris Andrews notes that Gov. Snyder proposed an ethics package when he was running for governor in 2010. Snyder called for banning gifts from lobbyists, "cooling-off periods," and regulating issue advertising.

But while Snyder achieved many of his campaign goals after taking office in 2011, these reforms were put on the back burner.

Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, told Andrews that lawmakers in Michigan are unlikely to change anything unless the public demands it.

Investigative
11:05 am
Wed March 28, 2012

Money Talks: Campaign money and Supreme Court justice candidates

The Michgian Hall of Justice, home of the Michigan Supreme Court.
MI Supreme Court

Lots of campaign money is being spent to influence the election of Michigan Supreme Court justices. That makes people wonder how judges can be impartial. After  all, some of the justices owe their position on the bench to people who have given them millions of dollars.

Every election cycle more and more money is being spent to help candidates for justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. With three seats on the court in contention this year, the amount of money is likely to break all records.

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Investigative
10:27 am
Tue March 20, 2012

Bridge: Welfare reforms put care-givers in a wrenching bind

Michigan Radio and Bridge Magazine are collaborating on a year-long look at the families terminated from Michigan's welfare cash assistance. This is the latest installment from Bridge.

By Ron French/Bridge Magazine

Todd Stafford has an uncontrollable neurological disorder that causes him to beat himself in the head hundreds of times a day. The beatings have made him blind and caused his head to “look like Frankenstein,” he says. His wife, Tina Stafford, doesn’t have a job because someone needs to be at their St. Joseph County home in case Todd injures himself seriously.

(Click here for the entire story.)

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.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Tue February 21, 2012

Money and politics: when the fix makes it worse

Jimmy Stewart's character in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" receives a lesson on the role of special interests in politics.

Many voters suspect politicians are corrupted by money. Campaign contributions and cozy relationships with lobbyists make voters wonder if their elected officials have their best interests at heart. That’s led to attempts to fix the problem in Michigan, but observers say sometimes the ‘fix’ makes the problem worse.

Politicians need money to run campaigns to win elections. And often that money comes from the rich and powerful. But what do those politicians get in return?

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon February 20, 2012

Money Talks: But is it free speech?

user tobym Flickr

This election year, money will drive the conversation in politics more than usual because of  recent Supreme Court decisions. They opened the floodgates of cash, allowing groups called Super PACs to spend unlimited amounts in support of federal candidates. We’re getting just a small sampling during the presidential primary.  This fall, Michigan will see a lot of money from outside the state coming in to buy tons of ads—most of them negative—to sway voters here.

Money can’t vote. But it certainly can affect the outcome of an election. And that bothers voters such as William Mayor.

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Investigative
8:00 am
Thu February 2, 2012

Life for Michigan families after welfare reform

The online magazine Bridge and Michigan Watch are collaborating on a year-long series of reports about the Michigan families who were removed from welfare. The Department of Human Services changed how it applied eligibility rules, resulting in thousands of Michigan families losing cash assistance from the state. Often that money was used for rent payments.

The latest stories come from Ron French of Bridge.

Welfare reform leaves families without a net, and off the radar

Three months after the launch of an aggressive welfare reform, Michigan has kicked more people off the dole than expected and saved the state millions of dollars. How the approximately 15,000 families cut off from cash assistance are surviving, though, isn’t as clear.  (Read entire article here.)

Daily life gets harder for three families

Her family is paying her rent; food stamps get her and her children most of the way through the month. But three months after being kicked off welfare, Matthews says she’s received cut-off notices for her electricity, gas and water. (Read the whole story here.)

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