Campaign Finance Reports Show Details of Yes and No Campaigns

Tuesday, July 31, 2018, 7:03 am
By: 
Chris Root

Legally-required late-July filings detailing campaign committees’ income and expenditures are now available, and they provide a view into campaigns on the “vote yes” and “vote no” sides of East Lansing’s income tax proposal. That proposal comes to the ballot next Tuesday, August 7.

The ballot committee urging a “Yes” vote has so far outraised and outspent the “No” committee, raising $14,420 and spending $9,145 by July 22.

The “No” committee, which got started campaigning two months later than the “Yes” campaign, raised $12,500 from two business sources by July 20 and spent half that amount.

Ballot committees are required to file quarterly reports just before each election so that income and expenditure data are available to the public before election day. However, political committees frequently raise and spend considerable amounts just before the election, so we won’t know the full financial pictures until after the election.

The “Yes” committee donors and expenditures:

The “Committee to Protect East Lansing’s Future” (referred to here as the “Yes” committee) sent out two mail pieces the last week of July, since ELi’s last report on the campaigns for and against the income tax.

One mailer (shown in part above) emphasized that a new income tax will bring in approximately $5 million of new revenue from non-residents who work in East Lansing, so that “everyone pays their fair share.” It also highlighted that net new revenue from the tax will be required under the City Charter to be spent on police, fire, and EMS services and infrastructure, so that “commuters who use our roads will help pay for them.”

The other mailer makes two points about the City’s actions so far: East Lansing has “worked hard to avert a fiscal crisis” by making significant reforms to its pension system and reducing its workforce by 30%. It also points out that the new version of the income tax that is on the August 7 ballot was developed with residents’ input. “The community crafted the Best Plan!” the mailer says. (The differences between the November 2017 and August 2018 income tax proposals is explained in ELi’s voter guide on the income tax.)

The “Yes” campaign has raised about $14,420 by July 22, including donations from 57 East Lansing residents that total about $11,940. Beyond East Lansing, three organizations have contributed: the Police Officers Association of Michigan ($500), Emerald Growth Partners, LLC of Bloomfield Hills ($1,000), and Miller Canfield PAC of Detroit ($500). In addition, three Traverse City residents have contributed a total of $500.

The financial report shows that the “Yes” committee’s fundraising strategy on the revised income tax question differs from its strategy on the November 2017 vote, which East Lansing voters rejected, with approximately 46% voting yes and approximately 53% voting no.

In 2017, the “Yes” committee raised about $7,600, almost 50% of which was from the five members of the City Council who had voted unanimously to place an income tax with no end date on the ballot. Only three other East Lansing residents were donors to the “Yes” committee last year. According to Mayor Mark Meadows, the “Yes” committee’s active campaigning for the income tax was delayed by negotiations with MSU about new revenue that MSU might pay the City as an alternative to the tax.

This year, the “Yes” committee has recruited many more East Lansing residents to publicly support the revised proposal that calls for an income tax which would end after 12 years. As of July 30, 2018, 251 East Lansing residents have publicly endorsed the new income tax proposal, and 57 residents have contributed financially. This has enabled the “Yes” committee to raise more funds and mail more literature to likely voters.

Two elected officials are again among the largest donors this year; Mayor Meadows and Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann have each donated $1,000 to the “Yes” committee in 2018. Two other East Lansing residents are also large donors: attorneys George Brookover ($2,500) and David Mittleman ($1,000).

Two other Council members have made significant contributions: Ruth Beier ($500) and Shanna Draheim ($450 in cash and $170 in kind). Council Member Aaron Stephens, who earned his B.A. from Michigan State University in May 2018, voted for and endorsed the income tax question but has not donated to the “Yes” campaign.

As we reported on July 17, the East Lansing Fire Fighters IAFF Local 1609 is campaigning for the income tax vote through the “’Yes’” for Safety” ballot committee. Local 1609 has made in-kind donations of $2,370 to print literature that “’Yes’ for Safety” has used for literature to mail to voters and to leave at doors.

The “No” committee donors and expenditures:

The “Citizens for East Lansing's Future” (referred to here as the “No” committee) has raised and spent much less so far in 2018 than it did in 2017. The comparable quarterly reports show income of $42,465 in 2017 compared to $12,500 in 2018. So far, this amount has been raised from only two sources: the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce ($10,000) and East Lansing-based Greenstone Farm Credit Services ($2,500).

The final report from the “No” committee following the November 2017 election showed total donations of $51,245, of which the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce contributed $28,250.

The “No” committee’s July 20 report says that $6,250 has been spent so far, on “voter list and prep” and “first two mail pieces.” I have not yet received the second mailer. (One side of the first “No” mailer is shown below.) Other expenditures beyond that are likely expected, since the committee has so far spent only half of what it has raised.

Comparing fundraising reports of the “No” committee in 2017 and 2018 reveals significant differences this time around in the “No” committee’s campaign, just as it does concerning the “Yes” campaign. The most obvious difference is that the committee has raised only about 30% of what it had raised at the comparable point in the campaign; the difference in spending during the comparable periods is also similar: $19,077 spent in 2017 compared to $6,250 in 2018.

The smaller amount of income in 2018 reflects not only lower spending thus far by the largest contributor, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, but also a smaller number of donors. In 2017, there were 32 donors – including 21 individuals, 12 of whom were East Lansing residents – compared to two business donors thus far in 2018.

Another notable difference in the donors to the “No” committee is the absence of senior MSU administrators and Board of Trustee members contributing to the campaign against the income tax in 2018. In 2017, eight contributors with strong ties to MSU gave a total of $5,000 to the “No” campaign. These donors were five MSU Trustees (Brian Breslin, Diane Byrum [individually and through Byrum Fisk Communications LLC], Joel Ferguson, Melanie Foster, and Brian Mosallam [through his candidate committee]), two Vice Presidents (Mark Haas and William Beekman [now the MSU Athletic Director]), and The Green and White PAC.

These donations were consonant with strong public statements against the tax made by MSU President Lou Anna Simon at the time.

This time around, MSU Interim President John Engler has not spoken publicly about the income tax proposal, and we have heard no public comments about the tax proposal from any other senior MSU administrators or trustees.

What to expect next:

One week to go before election day may seem like a short time, but significant resources can be spent on campaigns in the final days. The “Yes” committee has outspent the “No” committee so far, but the “No” committee could potentially go back to some of its higher-giving donors from 2017.

The “No” committee’s average donor in 2017 (excluding the Lansing Regional Chamber, because it is such an outlier) gave $742. The “Yes” committee has significantly expanded its donor base in 2018, but the average amount per donor is much smaller, at $218. These differences could impact resources that the two campaigns can draw on between now and August 7.

Ballot Question Committee financial reports:

All three ballot question committees advocating for and against the income tax filed their quarterly reports on time. ELi has made them available as follows:

 

For more information about what your August 7 ballot will look like, click here. For ELi’s comprehensive nonpartisan voter guide to the income tax proposal, click here.

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