By William Thiede
LANSING – In 2017, Republican state 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 the 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 state lawmakers raised more from PACs, Democrats got a higher percentage of their total funding from the PACs operated by special interest groups. Nearly 61 percent of the total contributions Democratic state lawmakers got in 2017 came from that source. The PACs accounted for about 51 percent of all the money Republicans raised.
Multiple PACs donate a significant amount of money to Michigan 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 UAW spent 100 percent of its $62,500 in PAC funds on Democrats
- The Michigan Education Association spent 83 percent of its $32,700 in state lawmaker 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, which tends to back Democrats.
One reason that 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.
“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.”
The 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 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.”
Tomorrow: Not every lawmaker raises lots of campaign cash.
Editor’s note: This story is one of a series produced by a Spartan Newsroom campaign finance data analysis project. Andrew Birkle, Natalie Dymkowski, Jaylyn Galloway, Ian Hawley, Eli Pales, Zach Robertson and William Thiede contributed to the series. It was produced with the advice and collaboration of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.