Outside Groups Pour Money into Stephens and “No” Campaigns

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017, 9:02 am
Alice Dreger

Documents made available by Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum’s office late yesterday show that the National Association of Realtors, based in Chicago, has put $32,823 towards supporting Aaron Stephens’ campaign for East Lansing City Council.

Why? We don’t know.

What we do now know is that this means that large sums of money are being spent by two outside organizations looking to influence the East Lansing elections: The National Association of Realtors is spending about $33,000 pushing Stephens for City Council, and the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce is spending about $29,000 pushing a “no” vote on the income tax.

In short, two outside groups—the National Association of Realtors and the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce—account for over two-thirds of the funds contributed so far for November 7, 2017, East Lansing elections.

The realtors’ PAC shows its funding source:

ELi reported yesterday that the Greater Lansing Association of Realtor’s PAC failed to file its campaign finance disclosure last Friday as required by state law. Yesterday, the PAC’s finance statement was turned in, and here’s what it shows:

The Greater Lansing Association of Realtors’ PAC has accepted contributions totaling $32,923. Of that, all of it came from the National Association of Realtors in Chicago except $100, which came from Michigan Realtors in Lansing.

The filing also shows that the PAC spent that donation on mailers for Stephens, paying a company out of Denver, Colorado, to do the work.

There are two seats open on City Council this November 7, with Ruth Beier and Susan Woods both running for re-election. Even if Stephens is elected, because Woods and Beier have been lately voting steadily in unison with Mayor Mark Meadows and Councilmember Erik Altmann, it is unlikely Stephens would be the deciding vote on any matter, at least for the next two years.

We asked Stephens by email last night whether he can explain the substantial interest in his campaign by the National Association of Realtors. Stephens responded this morning that he has "made no promises and I have no control over their spending or advocacy. I do appreciate their support, but this is a little bit beyond my understanding. When they endorsed me I figured they would do a little bit of advocacy but I really had no idea it would be to this extent." (Read his full statement here.)

Woods and Beier raise and spend nothing, while Stephens’ campaign attracts $43,000:

Beier has opted to raise and spend no money for her re-election campaign. As we reported yesterday, Woods has said she will do the same, although Woods has failed to file her required disclosure form thus far, so we can’t say for sure what her campaign is doing financially.

Stephens’ campaign, meanwhile, has raised over $10,000. When that sum is added together with the realtors’ PAC’s spending on the Stephens’ campaign, the total being put toward his campaign comes to $43,300.

The only other time we have seen this kind of spending on an East Lansing Council campaign was in the last Council election, in 2015. In that cycle, then-Mayor Nathan Triplett was running for re-election and spent almost $52,000 on his campaign. (He lost.)

The No campaign is far outspending Yes, mostly with outside money:

In this election, the Yes campaign has been 100% funded by East Lansing citizens, mostly City Council members. They’ve brought in a total about $4,600.

The No campaign, by contrast, has brought in about ten times that amount, drawing only about 25% of its funds from East Lansing citizens and businesses.

The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce is the single largest contributor to the No campaign, contributing $29,250 so far.

How the spending looks so far:

Bottom line? In this campaign, so far about $91,000 in contributions have been disclosed.

Of that, only about $18,400, or about 20%, is coming from East Lansing citizens and businesses.

All of the almost $73,000 in funds coming from outside the City of East Lansing are being spent either on pushing the Stephens campaign or the No campaign. Quotes from the realtors' group have been used on No campaign literature.

The National Association of Realtors and the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce account for about $62,000, or over two-thirds of the funds contributed for East Lansing races.


Note: This article was updated shortly after publication because we received Stephens' statement, as noted above. We also added the sentence, "Quotes from the realtors' group have been used on No campaign literature" to note the advertised connection between the No and realtors' groups. At 11:15 a.m., we amended two words of this article at Aaron's Stephens' request to clarify that the National Association of Realtors did not contribute the funds directly to his campaign, but rather to a PAC supporting his campaign.


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