Business Group Spends Thousands Promoting Draheim; Draheim Reacts
Image: A montage of the latest Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce ads for the East Lansing City Council race
East Lansing residents checking their mailboxes yesterday discovered a new round of glossy campaign mailings from the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, including another attacking Council candidate Erik Altmann, and three promoting candidate Shanna Draheim.
The Chamber leadership has been maintaining that these advertisements are “education” and “advocacy” because the ads do not say “vote for” or “vote against.” The Chamber’s President and CEO told the Lansing State Journal that only its PAC “pushes for specific candidates.”
In an email sent last night, I asked Shanna Draheim three questions. First: “Were you aware that these were being mailed in support of your campaign?”
Draheim replied early this morning, “I found out about the mailers the same way everyone else in East Lansing did, when they showed up in my mailbox.”
I also asked, “Were you aware that the LRCC [Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce] was also planning to put out attack ads on Erik Altmann?”
Draheim replied, “As I said in my previous statement on this matter, third party voices have taken the tone of this campaign in a disappointing direction. My fellow candidates and I were having a much more constructive discussion without them.”
I also asked, “Do you agree with the LRCC’s claims that these advertisements are ‘educational’ and therefore don’t have to follow the rules of campaign finance?”
Draheim replied, “I have focused on one thing during my campaign and that's creating a community that lives up to it’s potential as a world class university town. I have conveyed my vision and my values by talking to voters and through my campaign materials. I am very proud of the campaign I've run. I am most interested in talking about how I want to serve the community I love; the community my family calls home.”
I asked in a follow-up email this morning, “Have you told the Lansing Chamber of Commerce to stop? If so, when? If not, why not?” I also asked this morning, “Do you know where the Lansing Chamber of Commerce got all the photos of you and your family for the mailers?”
Draheim has not yet replied, but if she does, we will post an update here.
The Chamber has previously used photos without permission, namely the photo used of Altmann in the attack ads. Altmann told me, “MSU holds the copyright to the picture they used in the mailer. It was taken for a press release about my research.” Atlmann is a psychology researcher and faculty member at MSU.
This morning, I asked Mark Grebner, President of Practical Political Consulting (PPC) in East Lansing, to estimate what these mailers cost. [Grebner is a partner in PPC with Council candidate Steve Ross, and donated $25 to Ross, and nothing to any other candidate. Mark Meadows' campaign has employed PPC.] He guessed “they’ve only bought a few thousand – maybe 4000? – of each piece” to target likely voters. He says, “At that level, for printing, mailing fees, and postage, I’d guess you’re talking $1 apiece. There might be ways to economize, which might cut the cost to 70 cents.”
This would mean that the Chamber has now spent five-figures on mailings related to the East Lansing City Council race.
Why would the Chamber be spending so heavily to attack Altmann and promote Draheim? In a City Pulse article yesterday, Todd Heywood explained that there is “a growing divide in the college town over development incentives. Incumbents Susan Woods and Nathan Triplett have voted to approve various developer incentives on projects in the community, often carrying a 3-2 vote.” (See examples here.)
Heywood continued, “If Altmann wins one of the three seats on Tuesday—which fellow candidate Mark Meadows said polling shows could happen—it would shift the voting block on the Council from 3-2 in favor of development incentives to a 3-2 vote against their regular use.”
Triplett and Meadows are well known and are assumed by many to be likely to win two of the three seats up for grabs. With Steve Ross and Jermaine Ruffin trailing in visibility, it appears likely the third seat is a race between Altmann and Draheim. This may explain why the Chamber is spending heavily on ads about Altmann and Draheim.
The PAC of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Draheim, Meadows, and Triplett, but has only donated to the campaigns of Draheim and Triplett. (For complete campaign donation information on all campaigns, go here.)
Meadows has denounced the actions of the Chamber in a statement. Draheim has not named the Chamber in her statement calling for civility and respect, and again did not name the Chamber today in her responses. Triplett has remained silent on the matter, although he has been called upon to respond by one of his constituents.
UPDATE: At 11:40 a.m., we added the item above in brackets about Grebner's relationships with Ross and Meadows' campaign.
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