By Jaylyn Galloway
LANSING – In 2016, President Donald J. 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 Michigan 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 fund some or all of their campaigns. Some candidates don’t take money from special interest organizations that operate political action committees, which are commonly known as PACs. Other self-funders don’t necessarily oppose support from those committees.
The top self-funders in 2017 among Michigan state lawmakers were Holly Hughes ($250,000), John Bizon ($190,000), Peter Lucido ($50,000), Jim Runestad ($36,000), Lana Theis ($17,000), Jim Tedder ($16,000) and Robert Kosowski ($10,000). Each are a member of the Michigan House of Representatives.
Lucido, R-Shelby Township, gave himself $50,000 in 2017 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, R-Battle Creek, the second highest self-funder at $190,000, called himself “a lobbyist for the people.”
Kosowski, D-Westland, 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 have confirmed that they plan on running for senate in 2018.
Hughes, the top self-funder, did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. Runestad, Theis and Tedder also did not 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 funded his run by selling his chemical testing company, he said.
“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 N. Dodak, the chief executive officer of the Dodak Johnson political consultant firm, and a former member of the Michigan House of Representatives who served as its 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.
Dodak said he would urge Thanedar to run for something else to increase his name recognition. Running as an unknown for governor is a long shot, he said.
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, partner and 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 citizens doors.
When a candidate invests in themselves it shows that they are serious about winning, and that makes people want to invest in them, Hemond said.
Accepting PAC money from special interest groups is not always a solution.
“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,” Lucido said. “ Carry the water for the people, it’s refreshing.”
Tomorrow: Female politicians outraise male counterparts but get less from PACs.
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.