If you’ve been online recently, chances are you’ve seen a few political ads popping up in your social media feeds. Behind the scenes, big money is flowing to some of Michigan’s contested races. Detroit News reporter Craig Mauger has been tracking where that money ends up.
He said the best-funded contender right now is Republican John James. A super political action committee (PAC) established to help James unseat U.S. Senator Gary Peters has raised $800,000. The group is called Better Future Michigan, and the latest disclosure showed it had six donors. All six were members of the DeVos family.
Mauger said the amount of money being spent by the PAC is a signal of how competitive the race could be this November. When John James challenged U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow in 2018, he lost by six points. But this time around, Mauger said, James won’t have to win a competitive primary. That’s made donors more comfortable with investing in him earlier in the year.
Groups spending big money on political races certainly isn’t anything new. The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission opened the door for corporations and organizations to directly advocate for or against specific candidates. But there’s a whole other category of political spending to consider. In Michigan, Mauger explained, the state allows dark money groups to run ads as long as they don’t tell you how to vote.
“Citizens United doesn’t specifically affect those groups because they’re not considered, in Michigan at the state level here, to be election spending. They don’t fall under campaign finance disclosures.”
You can see just how influential the spending of outside groups is by looking at the state’s competitive U.S. House races in 2018. The race for the 8th District seat, which Elissa Slotkin won, drew $28 million in political spending. Of that, Mauger said, only $11 million came from the campaigns themselves. He expects we’ll see similar ratios in outside group vs. campaign spending in 2020’s most competitive races.
In addition to the race for U.S. Senate, Mauger said there are a few other races likely to draw significant outside funding. They include the 3rd District seat currently held by Independent Representative Justin Amash, and the 6th Congressional District where Republican Representative Fred Upton is running for reelection. Also, there are two seats up for election on the Michigan Supreme Court.
“And Michigan is kind of notorious for having very expensive state Supreme Court races. And often in those races, a lot of the money flows in from dark money, untraceable groups. And it’s very possible that we could have a large amount of outside spending in our state Supreme Court races as well.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Justin Amash as a Republican. Amash left the Republican party and declared himself an Independent last year. The error has been corrected above.