New Campaign Reports Show Money Behind Income Tax Campaigns
The ballot committees that pushed for and against the August East Lansing income tax proposal have filed their final financial reports. That means we can now look at who helped them with money and in-kind donations, and see what types of campaign activities they invested in.
Voters passed the measure on August 7 by a significant margin of 61% to 39%, while the main Yes and No ballot committees raised nearly identical amounts on the ballot question.
The “Committee to Protect East Lansing’s Future” (referred to here as the Yes committee) raised $17,442 according to its report, while the “Citizens for East Lansing's Future” (referred to here as the No committee) brought in $17,500, according to its report.
The Yes committee’s funds came mostly from monetary donations, but included $1,227 in in-kind contributions. The No committee’s income was all monetary.
A third, smaller ballot committee called “YES for Safety” spent $3,849, which came in three in-kind donations from the East Lansing Fire Fighters local of the International Association of Fire Fighters. (This total was reported on two reports, combined by ELi here.)
That brought the total resources available to the two ballot committees campaigning in favor of the income tax to $21,291.
Who gave to the Yes committee:
The sources and amounts of the two main Yes and No ballot committees were quite different, even if their total receipts almost matched.
The Yes ballot committee received donations from 67 individuals, in amounts ranging from $10 to $2,687. Other donors included the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM; $500), Miller Canfield PAC ($500), Emerald Growth Partners, LLC ($1,000), and the law firm Plunkett Cooney ($2,500).
ELi reported before the election on donors we could identify who have financial relationships with the City of East Lansing. (All five City Council Members were in support of the income tax.) These included:
- Miller Canfield ($500), the City’s bond counsel, including most recently on the Center City District project;
- David Mittleman ($1,000), a law partner at Church Wyble, who in late 2017 persuaded the City Council to sign on to a contingency lawsuit he’s brought forward on opioids;
- George Brookover ($2,687), attorney and East Lansing resident who frequently represents local clients with issues before City Council.
ELi’s previous report also noted that two other donors to the Yes campaign are involved in the marijuana business and could potentially seek a license to operate in this business in East Lansing, depending on what policies the City Council decides on regarding marijuana. These are:
- Bloomfield Hills-based Emerald Growth Partners, which donated $1,000;
- three members of the Piedmonte family, owners of Grand Traverse Vapor, who donated a total of $500.
The law firm Plunkett Cooney made the second-largest contribution to the Yes committee, with a check of $2,500 two weeks before the August 7 vote. This law firm, which has an office in downtown East Lansing, is representing the City against farmer Stephen Tennes and his business, Country Mill Farms, LLC, who are suing the City over exclusion from the City-run farmers’ market.
This means that almost half (47%) of the funding of the Yes committee came from people doing business with the City of East Lansing or likely to be looking for Council approvals related to their businesses. East Lansing’s current ethics rules do not require disclosure of this funding before votes, because the money was donated to a ballot campaign, not to individuals running for Council.
The Yes committee raised considerably more in 2018 than it did in 2017, namely $17,442 for its successful second campaign compared to $7,595 when it lost the first time around.
Who gave to the No committee:
As ELi reported prior to the August 7 election, the No campaign’s income this time was considerably smaller than the campaign leading to the November 2017 vote. In 2017, the No committee raised $51,245 for its successful effort to defeat the income tax vote, by a margin of 53% to 43%. This year, the No committee’s total income came to $17,500, only about one-third of what it raised in 2017.
The No committee received income from only two sources for the campaign leading up to the vote:
- $15,000 from the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce;
- $2,500 from Greenstone Farm Credit Services.
Under Michigan campaign finance laws, the Chamber is not required to reveal sources of funds it spends on elections.
The Chamber gave $28,250 to the 2017 effort against the City income tax proposal, which was 55% of the total then. In 2018, the Chamber’s $15,000 contribution amounted to 86% of the total.
How the big Yes and No campaigns spent their money:
The report of expenditures on the ballot committee financial reports reveal both similarities and differences between the two campaigns.
Both the Yes and No campaigns spent the majority of their funds on paper mailings: $9,060 (57%) by the Yes campaign and $11,650 (66%) by the No campaign.
Both campaigns also made significant expenditures for online promotion. The No committee spent $1,000 on “online advertising.” The Yes committee spent $1,227 on advertisements on Facebook and Google as well as boosting its own Facebook posts. It also spent $500 for a 30-second video that it posted on Facebook about a week before the election.
The second-largest expense of the No committee, after mailings, was $5,000 on a phone poll with a live caller. The Yes committee made calls to residents to discuss the income tax issue, but these calls were made by volunteers and did not use a script.
The Yes committee spent $1,100 on yard signs and $750 on “walk cards,” both tools for interacting with voters at their residences. There were a relatively small number of yard signs around town from the No committee, but the No committee’s financial reports in both 2017 and 2018 showed no specific expenditure for them.
The Yes committee also spent money on a fundraiser with food and live music, held at a downtown restaurant, where $1,190 was raised from 20 people. It ended the campaign with a “watch party” at the same venue.