Michigan Republicans pass Democrats in PAC contributions

Capital News Service

LANSING – In 2017, Republican lawmakers in Michigan raised more campaign funds from political action committees than Democrats.

Contributions from the committees commonly called PACs hit over $2.8 million for the GOP in a non-election year, according to a Spartan Newsroom analysis of campaign finance records.  Their Democratic counterparts raised nearly $1.4 million from PACs.

PACs are a tool that businesses, labor unions and other interest groups use to raise money for candidates in hopes of influencing policy.

While Republican lawmakers raised more from PACs, Democrats got a higher percentage of their total funding from PACs — nearly 61 percent of their total contributions came from those sources.  PACs accounted for about 51 percent of all the money Republicans raised.

Multiple PACs donate a significant amount of money to candidates. Many distinctly favor one party over the other.  Among the most polarized:

  • The Michigan Chamber of Commerce spent 98.5 percent of its $83,700 in contributions on Republicans.  
  • Comcast spent 84 percent of its $11,000 on GOP candidates.
  • The United Auto Workers spent all of its $62,500 in PAC funds on Democrats
  • The Michigan Education Association spent 83 percent of its $32,700 in PAC contributions on Democrats.

“There are PACs for both parties that donate a large sum of money to the people they want to see in that position,” said Lisa Canada, the political director for the Detroit Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, a union that tends to back Democrats. “This past year, politicians in office in Michigan were primarily Republican, which had a lot to do with the money being contributed.”

One reason why Republicans may rely proportionately less than Democrats on PACs is that Michigan has become more Republican over the years, said Jen Smith, a retired political consultant FROM WHERE?.

“The GOP doesn’t have to rely on PACs giving them as much money when people are going out and donating,” Smith said. “They have great influence over the people in Michigan right now.”

Republican legislators raised on average $62,061 from all sources in 2017. The average for Democratic legislators was $39,542.

“Everybody takes money from PACs, not just Republicans,” said Tony Daunt, executive director of  the Lansing-based Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative organization that says it strives to catalyze a grassroots movement in favor of “constitutional rights.”

“It’s a popular myth that only the Republicans take PAC money, and the media goes along with that myth,” Daunt said.

William Theide writes for Spartan Newsroom.


Not every lawmaker is a campaign rainmaker

Capital News Service

LANSING — The average legislator in Michigan raised more than $50,000 to run for office in 2017, but not all focused on big contributions.

In fact, 16 lawmakers raised less than $5,000 last year, according to a Spartan Newsroom analysis of campaign finance records. Three raised less than $500 each.

Candidates have three main sources of funding: individuals, political parties and political action committees commonly known as PACs.

A PAC is a tool that businesses, labor unions and other interest groups use to raise money for candidates in hopes of influencing public policy.

Individuals can donate a maximum of $1,000 to a campaign. But PACs can donate 10 times as much, up to $10,000. They’re controversial because of the large influence they can give to the candidate who distributes the funds.

Although he’s running for a third — his final one allowed under term limits — a as a state representative, Republican Aaron Miller of Sturgis raised only $150 for his reelection campaign. He chooses not to accept PAC contributions as a reflection of his political views and lifestyle.

“After my [first] primary in 2014, I had a few independent PACs donate money,” said Miller, who chairs the House Elections and Ethics Committee. “After that I made a commitment, which I have honored to this day, not to accept PAC money from that point forward.

“It was a [decision] I thought about by myself, with my wife and with my campaign manager,” Miller said.

“I ran to be a regular guy and I asked myself, ‘How can I be different from the pack?’ The thing I thought that would best demonstrate myself and my character to the public would be to not accept PAC money,” he said.

For his first election, Miller raised money from family, friends and other small contributors. Some people make fun of the small amounts he raises, he said, but “I would say I have to be doing something right to have been here so long.”

It may put him at a financial disadvantage not to take PAC money, he said, but “I would say that I am not a prolific money raiser to begin with.”

Betsy Coffia unsuccessfully ran for a House seat in 2014 and 2016. She also took no PAC money. She didn’t even take money from her own party.

Campaigning without the money from big donors actually attracted voters to her, she said. It was an important plank of her platform.

“I initially ran because of the issues I saw with how campaigns are financed,” said Coffia, a Democrat from Traverse City. “I see big money as corroding to the political process. I ran with only individual contributions, which was tough because that meant my only means of fundraising starting out was going door-to-door spreading my message.”

But there are advantages, she said. “I found that if I told voters that I had no donations from big-money donors, that opened them up to listen to the rest of my ideas.”

Competitors outspent her 3 to 1.

“Instead of paying for costly advertising campaigns, we did meet-and-greet sessions with our constituents without asking for money,” Coffia said. “We wanted our events to be open to everyone, and people responded well to that.”

Coffia lost but outperformed the national Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016 by 3 percent in the district, she said.

“I’ve experienced the difference in lawmakers who are money-oriented as opposed to people-oriented,” Coffia said. “We all pay their salaries, so we as citizens should get the same respect from them as lobbyists.”

There are good and bad qualities about PACs, said David Waymire, a former political journalist who is now a partner in Martin Waymire, a Lansing public relations firm.

“If you have 110 members of the House and 38 Senate members all pushing their own agendas, (lawmaking) can get very messy and sometimes nothing will get done,” Waymire said. “The influence of PACs can help to push things forward. However, this does give a lot of control and power to a few individuals.

“I don’t believe PACs have been particularly good for Michigan,” Waymire said. “You know what they say about absolute power.”

And not many people are watching which groups are contributing, some experts say.

James Bebarski, a former campaign manager for Casey O’Neill, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for a Grand Rapids seat in the House in 2016, said lack of interest in state races makes it easy for candidates to take money from PACs unnoticed.

“Most people cast their votes in state elections based on which name they remember from the primary elections,” Bebarski said. “Voters either don’t pay attention to where funding comes from, or they don’t really care enough to let it affect their vote.

“If I was running for the state Legislature, I would want as much PAC money as possible,” he said, adding that he wishes campaign finance records were a bigger focus in the election process.

“If more people take the time to check into their candidates and see where the finances are coming from, they won’t be as surprised when their lawmaker passes a bill with the interest of their donors in mind,” Bebarski said. “It’s on the voters to do their due diligence if we want to see any real changes in the way finances are raised.”

Ian Hawley writes for Spartan Newsroom.

NRA influence stretches beyond direct contributions

Capital News Service

LANSING — Despite the National Rifle Association’s reputation as a powerful lobby, the group donated to only one Michigan lawmaker in 2017, according to a Spartan Newsroom analysis of campaign finance records.

While Michigan’s state lawmakers raised nearly $8 million last year, Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, was the only one who got money from the NRA’s political action committee – a $500 donation.

Why Cole was singled out is hard to say. The NRA isn’t talking about it. Cole emailed this statement: “I am honored that because of my Second Amendment stance and hard work on legislation that I have gained the support of the NRA.”

Cole said the NRA is a grassroots organization with many members in his district, which covers Montmorency, Antrim, Charlevoix, Oscoda and Otsego counties.

So, how does the NRA maintain its reputation as a powerful influencer of state lawmakers without direct PAC donations?

The organization still spends a lot of money on elections without contributing to individual candidates, said Emily Durbin, the leader of Michigan’s Moms Demand Action chapter, an organization that works to reduce gun violence.

“Much of it consists of funding mailers in opposition to those running against their preferred candidate,” Durbin said.

Mailers fall under something called independent expenditures, a way of supporting a specific candidate without being in communication with them, said

J T Stepleton, a researcher for the National Institute on Money in State Politics based in Helena, Montana.

That makes them unlike traditional PAC donations, which go directly to lawmakers’ campaigns where they can use it however they chose, Stepleton said.  The strategy used by the NRA’s PAC allows the organization to support a candidate without appearing in campaign finance reports.

“If (PACs) are spending money on Michigan elections, the odds are it’s going to end up being in the form of independent expenditures,” Stepleton said. “That comes with a number of benefits for those involved, especially because they don’t have to deal with contribution limits.”

The NRA doesn’t spend a lot of money on state-level races, he said. “It’s not that they won’t, and they often times strategically target certain races, but they do devote most of their money to federal elections.”

The NRA’s support often come in the form of scorecards, which are mailed to voters to show where candidates stand on gun issues and usually come with a grade.

Scorecards “can be a pretty powerful force in an election,” Stepleton said.

The NRA says it remains influential because its members truly care about gun rights. Officials with the group declined direct comment and an interview request for this article. However, they said in an email:

“The power of the NRA comes from our expansive and passionate member base and our grassroots organization,” Amy Hunter, the media liaison for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, wrote. “Our members, and all Second Amendment supporters, care deeply about this issue and they vote.”

Durbin, of Michigan’s Moms Demand Action, said a key factor in the NRA’s effectiveness is its ability to fire up its base, Durbin said.

“They mobilize some of their members to loudly and persistently advocate with their lawmakers,” Durbin said. “They tend to use a lot of inflammatory language and scare tactics to convince their members that reasonable, common-sense measures on gun policies are actually covert attempts to confiscate guns or to completely roll back the Second Amendment.”

Stepleton agrees that member engagement is key for the NRA.

“One thing that just goes overlooked is their own mobilization capacity,” Stepleton said. “That is essentially how they interact with their members, which wouldn’t really show up on a campaign finance report.”

Durbin said that when constituents call, lawmakers pay attention, and the narrative that the government and political left are trying to take away guns has been very effective for the NRA.

“It is really telling people, many of whom have hobbies or interest related to firearms, that someone is trying to take that part of their hobby, their identity, their interest, part of their traditions away and people wish to defend that,” Durbin said. “Even if none of the proposals on the table are anything close to that.”

In Michigan, Stepleton said, it’s less about direct money contributions and more about the NRA telling its members whom they can trust. When the NRA’s leaders talk, its members listen and tend to vote accordingly.

Andrew Birkle writes for Spartan Newsroom.

Self-funded campaigns on the rise

Capital News Service

LANSING – In 2016, President Donald Trump spent $66 million of his own funds on his campaign. He’s hardly the only politician to invest in his or her own career.

The Legislature produced seven big self-funders in 2017 – a year when state lawmakers weren’t running for office, according to a Spartan Newsroom analysis of campaign finance records.  

Self-funding is when candidates use their own money to finance some or all of their campaign costs. Some candidates don’t take money from special interest organizations that operate political action committees (PACs). Other self-funders don’t necessarily oppose support from those committees.

The top self-funders in 2017 among Michigan lawmakers were Reps. Holly Hughes of Montague ($250,000); John Bizon of Battle Creek ($190,000); Peter Lucido of Shelby Township ($50,000); Jim Runestad of White Lake ($36,000); Lana Theis of Brighton ($17,000); Jim Tedder of Clarkston ($16,000); and Robert Kosowski of Westland ($10,000).   

Lucido gave himself $50,000 to run for office and took no PAC money, according to campaign finance records.

“I self-funded to put my money where my mouth is,” he said.

Bizon, the second-highest self-funder at $190,000, called himself  “a lobbyist for the people.”

And Kosowski said self-funding doesn’t put him at a disadvantage.

“I want to invest in myself – that I’m all in,” he said.

Kosowski, Lucido and Bizon are running for Senate seats this year.   

Hughes, the top self-funder, didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview. Runestad, Theis and Tedder also didn’t respond to requests for interviews.

It’s not just lawmakers who fund their own campaigns. Gov. Rick Snyder spent $6 million on his first election.

Shri Thanedar, a gubernatorial candidate in the Democratic primary this year, is trying to duplicate that success. He gave $6 million to his campaign.

Rather than taking PAC money, Thanedar said he funded his run by selling his chemical testing company.

“I didn’t want to be beholden to corporations,” Thanedar said, “I believe the reason why our government is corrupt, and corporations get away with things, is the dependency on corporation money.”

Political experts say that betting on yourself like Trump, Snyder and Thanedar doesn’t often work.

“Personally, you don’t see many Michigan people self-fund, ” said Lew Dodak, the chief executive officer of the Dodak Johnson political consultant firm and a former House speaker. “Your chances of being elected are small.”

In fact, 88 percent of political candidates in a nationwide study who relied heavily on their own money lost their election from 2010 through 2015, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics based in Helena, Montana.

Dodak said he would urge Thanedar to run for something else to increase his name recognition because running as an unknown for governor is a long shot.

When it comes to elections, it’s more of a matter of having enough money instead of the most money, political experts say.

“I will always tell candidates you don’t have to have the most money,” said Adrian Hemond, the chief executive officer of Grassroots Midwest, a Lansing political consulting company. “You just have to have enough to win the race.”

Self-funding helps put candidates in direct contact with people who are voting, Hemond said, rather than having limited time to raise money through television commercials or knocking on voters’ doors.

When candidates invest in themselves, it shows that they’re serious about winning, and that makes other people want to invest in them, Hemond said.

Accepting PAC money from special interest groups isn’t always a solution.

Lucido said, “If you keep being elected with these special groups, it sounds to me like you’re carrying water for the special interest, not the people, Carry the water for the people –it’s refreshing.”

Jaylyn Galloway writes for Spartan Newsroom.

Campaigns raise big bucks in nonelction year

Capital News Service

LANSING – You may not know your legislators,  but chances are they’ve raised eye-popping sums of money to get your attention.  

Last year, the average Michigan lawmaker n raised more than $50,000 to run for office, according to a Spartan Newsroom analysis of campaign finance records. That’s even though there were no regularly scheduled elections in 2017.

As this year’s election approaches, legislators are gearing up to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. Several factors contribute to ballooning campaign costs.

Communication is the most expensive part of a campaign, especially in a district representing nearly 300,000 people, said Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-Meridian Township.

“One mailing to my entire district, just the voting population, is like $20,000,” said Hertel, who was first elected in 2014. “If you want to get a message out, it is very expensive.”  

Media costs contribute, in large part, to how expensive campaigns are, especially as they become more modern, said Rep. Steve Marino, R-Harrison Township. He contributes his own funds to his campaign, but also fundraises traditionally because he says it helps him better communicate with constituents.

“There’s a rising cost with TV ad buys,” Marino said. “There’s a rising cost with mail design. Social media 15 years ago wasn’t even in play — now it tends to be a very, very, very big portion of a candidate’s budget.”

Data analytics, websites and targeted advertising are reasons for the growing expense of modern campaigns, he said. It isn’t just about making social media posts: Politicians must promote and target users to get their message out.

Hertel said that while most legislators raise substantial sums of money, that money isn’t necessarily spent exclusively on their own campaigns. Those running campaigns in competitive districts often rely on the substantial sums raised by incumbents like Hertel in safer districts.

“If you looked at my campaign finance reports, for example, most of my money has gone to the (Democratic) caucus to pick up more seats,” Hertel said. “The things I care about aren’t going to happen in this current legislature. I’ve gotten six bills to the governor’s desk, but the big things I care about aren’t going to happen unless more Democrats win in 2018.”  

Marino said, “Incumbency is worth more than anything you can quantify.”

Term limits are one reason for increased spending, said Bill Ballenger, a former legislator and now a capital-area political pundit. Incumbents do a better job at deterring candidates while open seats draw more candidates and spending.

”Campaign financing has changed since Ballenger, a Republican, first ran for a House seat in 1968. Then, most candidates were ashamed to take money, he said.

“My feeling as a candidate was that I was embarrassed to spend any great amount of money to get elected,” Ballenger said. “I didn’t want it to appear that I was buying the nomination on the Republican side. I don’t think my feeling was unique. If you were a candidate, you wanted to prove your popularity with the electorate without buying your votes, putting yourself out there with your credentials.”

He was outspent by two other candidates in the primary, but he still won.

“Everything is changed today,” he said. “Now, it’s a point of pride how much money you can raise in a campaign and how much you can spend. Candidates and their campaigns actually brag about their early start in fundraising.”

Rising campaign costs can be largely attributed to court cases over the past 50 years, Ballenger said. That includes a 1978 case that found campaign spending caps unconstitutional. In the 2010 Citizens United case, the U.S. Supreme Court found independent spending by corporations and labor groups to be protected by the First Amendment, ruling that the government can’t limit it.

According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network’s tracking, the 110 races for the House cost a combined $15 million in 2002. In 2016, the 110 races cost $27 million.

Hertel and Marino disagree on whether increased spending has helped or hurt the electoral process. Marino said higher spending helps him communicate with constituents because it allows him to send his personal phone number to each constituent frequently. Without the mailings, he said he may not have been able to resolve constituents’ problems needed.

But Hertel said the money corrupts politics.

“There is clear evidence of undue influence of money in politics,”Hertel said. “I don’t think people should have to raise this kind of money to run for office.

Ballenger said he doesn’t think that heavy spending raises constituent awareness of legislators.

“Are those TV ads really educating the public to a far greater extent than used to be the case?” Ballenger said. “Are you really getting a sense of where Joe Blow stands and differs from his opponent compared to the way it used to be 30, 40 or 50 years ago? I would say no.”

Rather than informing voters, campaign spending all comes down to winning more seats than the other party, Ballenger said. “Money is being spent because it’s all about control and power.”

Despite the large sums raised by lawmakers, funds often are raised from a small number of elite contributors. Nationwide, 68 percent of campaign funds raised in 2016 came from donations greater than $200 and several individuals donated well in excess of $100,000 to campaigns.

Eli Pales reports for Spartan Newsroom.

Female candidates outraised men

Capital News Service

LANSING — On average, female legislators in Michigan outraised their male counterparts in contributions to their own campaigns by more than $6,000 last year.

That’s despite the fact that women may face more fundraising challenges than men, said A’Shanti Gholar, the political director of Emerge America, a national group in Washington, D.C., that  encourages women to run for office.

“When a woman decides to run, she may have a harder time raising money,” Gohlar said. “And she is most likely going to have a deficit in fundraising.”

Despite the hurdles, Gholar said that she’s unsurprised that Michigan’s female lawmakers were able to outraise men if they had the right tools and met the right criteria as candidates.

Female state lawmakers on average raised around $58,000 in 2017 to finance their campaigns, according to a Spartan Newsroom analysis of campaign finance records. Male lawmakers collected roughly $52,000 on average.

The woman who raised the most money was Rep. Holly Hughes, R-Montague, who raised $308,877. That included $250,000 of her own money.

Hughes didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Political experts say raising money is less of a problem for women than the challenge of getting more women to run.

“Research shows that women running for office are doing just as well as men,” said Jessica Kelly, the program and leadership director of Running Start, another Washington-based national organization that encourages and trains women to run for office. “They are just not running as often.”

A smaller percentage of  funding for women lawmakers comes from political action committees (PACs)  than the proportion for male lawmakers, according to the analysis.

The analysis examined the records of 37 female and 109 male lawmakers. It found that 56 percent of the money raised by men came from PACs. At the same time, about 49 percent raised by women came from PACs.

The difference may have more to do with seniority than gender, said Mark Grebner, an East Lansing political consultant.

“I think the biggest reason women don’t take as much PAC money right now is because right now there are no women who are in key leadership roles where they are controlling PAC fundraising, ” said Grebner, the founder of Practical Political Consulting.

Two female lawmakers in leadership roles are House Democratic Floor leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, who raised $55,304, and Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, president pro tempore of the Senate,who raised $50,626.

PAC contributions are to a large extent organized by people behind the scenes and not about backing candidates because they agree with them, Grebner said.

“PAC money, almost none of it, has anything to do with supporting a person just because they think he/she is doing a good job,” Grebner said. “People who control money, they are visibly moving money around and what you’re seeing is just the surface of it.”

Despite the differential in PAC contributions, women raise more total funds on average than men, according to the analysis. It may be because they have to work harder to get elected.

Rep. Kristy Pagan, D-Canton, said she faced challenges when running because voters typically see men as political candidates and not women. That made it harder to raise money.

Pagan said she had to campaign twice as hard as her male counterparts.

“I used every single moment I had wisely because I also had a full-time job,” she said. “I wanted to optimize bringing as many people as I could into the campaign using cutting-edge technology.”

Running for office presented challenges because voters didn’t see her as a “traditional” candidate, she said. She had to  make a compelling case to show them that she was serious.

Now, Pagan says she hopes to help get money out of politics and focus on more important things.

“I should be doing research on legislation or reading bills,” Pagan said. “But I also have to incorporate raising money for resources that I need just to stay in office.”  

Natalie Dymkowski writes for Spartan Newsroom.

CNS Budget – April 27, 2018

April 27, 2018 – Week 1

To: CNS Editors

From: Eric Freedman & Sheila Schimpf


For technical problems, contact CNS technical manager Tony Cepak at (517) 803-6841; cepak@msu.edu.

For other matters, contact CNS Director Eric Freedman at (517) 355-4729 or (517) 256-3873; freedma5@msu.edu.


LAST REGULAR FILE FOR THE SPRING: This is our final regular weekly file of the spring semester. You’re welcome to continue using prior stories and visuals from our website.


UPCOMING: On Wednesday, May 2, CNS will move a special package of articles about campaign financing reported by our partner, Spartan Newsroom.


ALSO UPCOMING: On Friday, May  4, CNS will move its end-of-semester Bonus Week budget. These are still-timely stories you may not have had space for when they were first reported.


MORE UPCOMING: During the summer we plan to move several packages of Michigan-related environmental stories in partnership with Great Lakes Echo.


Here’s your file:


EARLYLITERACY: Children should be developing literacy skills starting at birth but many parents don’t realize that ages 0 to 3 are critical for future reading success. Michigan is among the bottom 10 states for early literacy. We hear from  the Kent and Ingham intermediate school districts and the MEA. By Agnes Bao. FOR LANSING CITY PULSE, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.


BROOKTROUT: Angling for brook trout? Fourteen U.P. counties — Menominee is the sole exception — now have at least one stream where the daily bag limit for brook trout is five  rather than 10. In total, part or all of 36 U.P. streams have the higher limit. DNR explains. By Kaley Fech. FOR SAULT STE. MARIE, ST. IGNACE, MARQUETTE, BAY MILLS, CHEBOYGAN AND ALL POINTS.

w/BROOKTROUTPHOTO: A spring brook trout catch from the Upper Peninsula. Credit: Michigan.gov


IMPROVINGSCHOOLS: Thirty-eight of Michigan lowest-performing schools are about to wrap up their first year under a partnership program created to keep them open They had been in the bottom 5 percent for academic performance. They include schools in Lansing, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Benton Harbor, Saginaw and Pontiac. By Maxwell Evans. FOR LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.


AFFORDABLEHOUSING: Michigan has a shortage of affordable rental homes for extremely low-income households, according to a national report and the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. We talk to a Ludington-based shelter organization and Grand Rapids real estate experts. By Gloria Nzeka. FOR LUDINGTON, OCEANA, MANISTEE, CADILLAC,  LANSING CITY PULSE, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, LAKE COUNTY AND ALL POINTS.


LICENSING: A new Mackinac Center for Public Policy report says Michigan unnecessarily requires licenses for too many occupations. A legislator from Mancelona says the state is too heavily regulated, but the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition says some occupations that should be licensed aren’t. The lieutenant governor says it’s important to streamline the licensing process. By Crystal Chen. FOR GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, PETOSKEY, MONTMORENCY AND ALL POINTS.


WINE: Predictions are that wine prices will rise because of global problems facing the industry, with 2017 production at its lowest level in 60 years amid poor crops caused by bad weather and wildfires. What does that mean for the prices of Michigan wines? The president of an Old Mission Peninsula winery discusses. By Riley Murdock. FOR LEELANAU, TRAVERSE CITY, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.


AUTISMEMPLOYMENT: There’s a high unemployment rate for Michigan adults with autism. Lt. Gov. Calley says the special education system needs improvements to help reduce that rate. We also hear from the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service and a nonprofit community rehabilitation organization in Sault Ste. Marie. By Maxwell Evans. FOR SAULT STE. MARIE, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS, CHEBOYGAN AND ALL POINTS.


SOLARBILLING: A new order by the Public Service Commission will reduce savings for homes deciding to generate electricity from solar energy, possibly creating a disincentive for homeowners to install solar systems. Some legislators, including ones from Ann Arbor, Potterville and Calumet, want to block it. We also talk to Consumers Energy, the PSC and the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association. By Casey Hull. FOR MARQUETTE, SAULT STE. MARIE, LANSING CITY PULSE, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.


SCHOOLDISCIPLINE: A new national study by the General Accountability Office finds that black students, boys and children with disabilities are disproportionately disciplined with suspensions and expulsions. in K-12 public schools. That’s true in Michigan as well, according to the head of the state Civil Rights Department and the ACLU. By Gloria Nzeka. FOR LANSING CITY PULSE AND ALL POINTS.


ELECTRICCARS: Michigan is moving to better accommodate electric cars with upcoming pilot programs by DTE Energy and Consumers Energy. The Michigan Electric Auto Association, Consumers Energy and the Public Service Commission explain. By Riley Murdock. FOR GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.


PLASTICSTRAWS: Americans use lots and lots of plastic straws, and that’s bad for the environment. Some grassroots group, including ones in Traverse City and Ann Arbor, are pushing to limit them and some restaurants are complying. We talk to the Great Lakes Environmental Center in Traverse City, an MSU expert and an activist.  By Agnes Bao. FOR TRAVERSE CITY, LEELANAU, GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS AND ALL POINTS.


OPIOIDS: The president announced a national opioid emergency last October, but Michigan started tackling the crisis before that. We hear from a Monroe lawmaker who wrote the law making it tougher for children to be prescribed opioids, from Lt. Gov. Calley, from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and from the Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network. By Colton WOOD. FOR ALL POINTS.


MONARCHS: State agencies and their partners are working to save the declining monarch butterfly, which is threatened by the black swallow-wort, an invasive vine that resembles the milkweed plants that monarchs need to eat. The invader is found mostly in Southern Michigan but has been spotted in the Grand Traverse, Emmet, Delta and Cheboygan counties. We talk to DNR experts and North County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area that covers .


w/MONARCHSPHOTO1: Black swallow-wort. Credit: Leslie Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut

w/MONARCHSPHOTO2: Monarch on milkweed. Credit: Michigan State University Extension.


FOURDAYSCHOOLS: Some states are moving toward a four-day school week, but Michigan districts show no such trend. The Education Department says only two districts, in Newaygo and Iron counties, have four-day schedules. We also talk to the Michigan Association of School Boards. By Agnes Bao. FOR BIG RAPIDS, MARQUETTE, SAULT STE. MARIE AND ALL POINTS.


TERMLIMITS: Are term-limited legislators lazier than colleagues who can run again? A new national study finds that legislators who can no longer seek reelection sponsor fewer bills, are less productive on committees and are absent for more floor votes, on average. This year Michigan has 23 term-limited representatives and 25 term-limited senators. Commentary. For news and editorial pages. By Eric Freedman. FOR ALL POINTS.


WETLANDS: What’s good for the goose – and the duck and the swan – is good for the frog.

A new study done in Ontario and Michigan finds that waterfowl aren’t the only beneficiaries of wetlands management projects and restoration–many other bird and frog species benefit too. Meanwhile, Ducks Unlimited and its partners are working on restoration projects around the state, including recent ones in Lenawee, Manistee, Mason and St. Clair counties and the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. By Eric Freedman. FOR BLISSFIELD, LUDINGTON, MANISTEE AND ALL POINTS.


RIVERS&SOYBEANS: What do Chinese soybean farmers have in common with the health of Michigan’s rivers and fish populations? While their relationship may not seem obvious, both are now studied through an emerging concept in scientific research called telecoupling. MSU experts. By Lauren Caramagno. FOR ALL POINTS.

w/RIVERS&SOYBEANSPHOTO: Researchers studied the North Branch of the Paint River in the Upper Peninsula to help develop the decision-support tool. Credit: Andrew Carlson.


QUAGGAS: Scientists using GoPro cameras attached to dedges are documenting the troubling extent of the invasive quagga mussels in Lake Michigan. “It’s like a continuous carpet across the lake,” Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab scientist says. By Kate Hambrel. FOR LUDINGTON, MANISTEE, OCEANA, BENZIE, TRAVERSE CITY, PETOSKEY, CHEBOYGAN, HARBOR SPRINGS, LEELANAU, HOLLAND AND ALL POINTS..

w/QUAGGASPHOTO1: Collecting samples on Lake Michigan. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

w/QUAGGASPHOTO2: Quagga mussels collected in a benthic trawl on board the USGS Sturgeon as part of 2015 Lake Michigan Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative research. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


CATTLETRACKING: Michigan is among the first states to track cattle with ear tags that emit radio signals, a system livestock officials say should be adopted nationwide to track disease outbreaks. The system is important as foreign markets increasingly require such tracking for imported beef. We talk to a Sturgis livestock producer, a Michigan State University animal science professor and a livestock specialist at Michigan Farm Bureau. By Crystal Chen. FOR STURGIS, THREE RIVERS AND ALL POINTS.



Calls for national cattle tracking system follow Michigan’s success

Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan was the first state to implement a mandatory cattle traceability program.

Michigan was prompted in 2007 by an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis to better track beef and dairy cattle from the farm to the consumer.

All Michigan cattle must be identified with radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags before they are moved. The tags are scanned by readers when they leave a farm or go to a slaughter house. A state database tracks their location.

Cattle tracking should be done nationwide, said Daniel Buskirk, an associate professor of animal science at Michigan State University.

“There are diseases in the live animal that I’d like to be able to track back, things like bovine tuberculosis or foot-and-mouth disease,” Buskirk said. “If it’s found, I want to know what the origin of it is, so that we don’t spread it further and cause losses of livestock.”

Michigan has 1.14 million head of cattle , according to the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Michigan cattle and calves cash receipts totaled $529 million in 2016.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recently reported that only four states mandate cattle traceback systems. The other three are Texas, South Dakota and Wisconsin, but each of their systems is different. International markets are driving the need for tracking cattle, said Ernie Birchmeier, the livestock and dairy specialist at the Michigan Farm Bureau.

The association estimates that 61 percent of global beef exports come from countries with effective national traceability systems.

“There are a lot of discussions going on across the United States right now regarding implementation of a national animal ID system,” Birchmeier said.

Livestock traceability was the main topic of discussion at a recent meeting of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture in Denver, he said. “And there was broad consensus from the group that we need to move forward and implement a cattle traceability program in the country.

“There will be distractors, and there will be those who don’t want to follow the program, but the international market ultimately is going to dictate traceability in our cattle industry. Our foreign partners want to know where the animals came from, the type of feeding programs,” Birchmeier said.

If Michigan didn’t have a system, it would be extremely difficult for the state to not only export beef, but also export cattle or market cattle outside the state because of bovine TB, Buskirk said.

“Other states would not be interested in buying cattle from Michigan, so that will ultimately hurt our markets,” he said.

The system allowed the state to resume supplying other states that had barred Michigan cattle when the bovine TB problem started, said Monte Bordner, the owner of Bordner Farms in Sturgis.

Bordner was an early supporter of the program.

It didn’t immediately catch on:  “Change terrifies people,” Bordner said. Some people didn’t want to pay $3 for a each tag.

“Some people don’t want any government involvement in anything.”

According to the national association report, 95 percent of Michigan cattle producers comply  with the tracking program.That, Buskirk said, is “pretty good.”

“Regardless, in my opinion, it’s a fairly small price to pay to have export markets that add more value to our products in the long term,” Buskirk said.


Michigan faces affordable housing shortage

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan has a shortage of rental homes that are affordable and available to extremely low-income households, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

Its study found that 71 percent of extremely low-income renter households in the state spend more than half of their income on housing costs and utilities.

We’re seeing more and more people who maybe precariously housed, being at greater risk of becoming homeless,” said Eric Hufnagel, the executive director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, a nonprofit organization of emergency shelters and transitional housing programs.

Hufnagel said the cost of housing is going up, and it’s getting more difficult to afford or keep housing.

“The housing market is tougher. Fewer units and higher costs are pushing more and more people to the point where they may become homeless,” Hufnagel said. And when people live from paycheck to paycheck, any economic downturn can put them at risk of losing their housing.

The national coalition’s 2018 report shows that households whose incomes are at or below the poverty line spend more than half of their income on housing. Its recent report said poor households are more likely than other renters to sacrifice necessities like healthy food and health care to pay the rent and to experience “unstable housing” situations like evictions.

The national study found that, on average, a Michigan household must earn $16.24 per hour (working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year) or have a $33,775 annual household income to afford a two-bedroom rental home without paying more than their income.

In some communities, not everyone working 40 hours a week can afford housing.

For example, Cynthia Arneson, the executive director of a Ludington-based shelter called Youth Staircase Services said, “So there are people who have jobs, and even if they are working 40 hours a week they cannot necessarily afford to live in the housing that is available in our counties.

The organization serves Lake, Manistee, Mason, Missaukee, Wexford and Oceana counties.

The National Low-Income Housing Coalition says the housing crisis “isn’t just about affordability—it’s about economic mobility, too.”

Adam Sheren, a real estate agent with the Adley Group Realty & Development in Ludington, said housing in West Michigan is a concern, and the major difficulty is that it’s tough to lure major housing developers to the city.

“It’s very hard for a community such as Ludington to attract big-time developers because they don’t see the dollars,” Sheren said. “For them to come and do a project here, there has to be a ton of incentive.”

In Michigan, Sheren said rent for a two-bedroom apartment in rural communities ranges between $600-$850 a month, and in the city prices can go up to $2,000.

Jana Cooper, from Third Coast Development, a Grand Rapids-based commercial real estate firm, said the company has two affordable housing projects under construction in Grand Rapids. One is set to open in August 2018.

The apartment complex will feature 165 one- and two-bedroom units priced to be affordable to households of mixed income levels.

Sheren said it’s hard for many local developers to break into the development game even though they have the skills and the desire to do so. Because they don’t have experience, they aren’t always aware of available grants and financing opportunities.

In Mason County, Sheren said initiatives such the Growth Alliance and the Vacant Property Campaign have done a good job of understanding the need for local developers.

Those initiatives, brought in by local groups, conduct marketing campaigns to show local developers the opportunities around the area and help them meet with local stakeholders.

“Municipalities should assist developers in finding properties, development opportunities, grants or whatever it may be so that they can address these affordable housing issues,” Sheren said.

Instead of trying to attract developers from Grand Rapids or out of state, Sheren said the key to solving the housing problem is working with people already in the community who have a vested interest in seeing that community flourish.

“Provide them with a team and tools and incentives — whether it’s tax reductions, a grant or being a voice between them and organizations like the Michigan Economic Development Corp. — so somebody in the local community can get a project done,” he said.

New invasive plant plan fights monarch nemesis

Capital News Service

LANSING —  A new invasive species management plan may help state agencies combat intrusive plants — and rescue wildlife at risk.

That’s good news for the monarch butterfly which has declined in numbers and lost its habitat because of  the black swallow-wort. The invasive vine displaces milkweed, the butterfly’s source of food. It is also poisonous to monarch caterpillars.

The vine grows predominantly in Southern Michigan. It has been also reported in a couple of counties in the northern Lower Peninsula and one in the Upper Peninsula. Experts fear it’s spread.

“Invasive plant species in Michigan generally start in Southern Michigan and hitchhike up into Northern Michigan by way of people or being spread by wind,” said Sue Tangora, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forest health and cooperative programs section supervisor.

The World Wildlife Fund of Mexico reports that the monarch population has decreased by 15 percent in the past year.

After their winter migration to Mexico, monarchs are more densely clustered, making it easier to count them. In summer, they spread across most of the eastern United States with the majority located from South Dakota to eastern Connecticut.

A group of Midwestern nonprofit and government groups met twice in 2016 in Michigan to plan how to help the butterflies recover, said Mike Parker, of the DNR’s wildlife division.

The pillars of the plan are “habitat conservation, education and outreach, monitoring and research, policy review and promoting collaborative partnerships,” said Parker, the divisions conservation partners specialist.

Creating a sustainable grassland habitat for monarchs requires milkweed and wildflowers.

“Milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat, but adult monarchs eat the nectar that wildflowers provide,” Parker said. “It’s essentially the carbohydrates they need to make their 2,000 mile journey back to Mexico.”

Grasslands are a natural ecosystem for milkweed and wildflowers, but invasive species can overtake a natural ecosystem if there’s nothing there to eat them.  

“There are a lot of invasive species that impact grasslands, but the black swallow-wort is probably the most concerning at this point,” Parker said.

Michigan’s Terrestrial Invasive Species State Management Plan is a partnership among the DNR and departments of Agriculture & Rural Development and Environmental Quality.

The plan outlines the need to collaborate to quickly prevent, detect and remove new species early.

Black swallow-wort grows quickly and is toxic to both caterpillars and mammals. It produces seed pods similar to milkweed seed pods, said the DNR’s Tangora.

And monarchs lay eggs on the black swallow-wort.

“Unlike milkweeds, swallow-wort does not provide the same nutrition for caterpillars that milkweed does,” Tangora said.“The eggs hatch, but they are unable to feed on the black swallow-wort and don’t survive.”

Swallow-worts also push out indigenous milkweed, removing habitat for monarchs to lay eggs. “Any place where you have swallow-wort, it has a tendency to dominate that system,” Tangora said.

She said a combination of herbicides and plucking seed pods before they open is the best way to control its spread.

Regional cooperative invasive species management areas are working to prevent the spread of invasive species.

“We’ve been lucky that we haven’t found any black swallow-wort in this area,” said Vicki Sawicki, the coordinator for the North County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area which covers Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Missaukee, Osceola and Wexford counties.

“Right now we’re just getting the word out regarding what it looks like,” Sawicki said.

She believes it’s  likely that black swallow-wort is in the area but hasn’t been spotted yet.

“I’ve seen it in fields from other areas and it’s very nondescript. If you don’t know what it looks like you’ll look right past.”

Black swallow-wort has also been reported in Delta, Grand Traverse, Emmet and Cheboygan counties, according to the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network and the University of Michigan Herbarium.

Tangora said the monarch isn’t on the endangered list but is a species of greatest conservation need. A species of greatest conservation need has low or declining populations and needs human intervention and sometimes legal protection.