Federal Politics

Published — January 16, 2014 Updated — May 13, 2014 at 3:15 pm ET

Dow Chemical backed anti-union nonprofit with $2 million donation

Michigan home to web of ‘dark money’ nonprofits

Introduction

Pro-union demonstrators crowd the Rotunda of Michigan’s Capitol in Lansing, December 2012. Detroit News, Dale G. Young/AP

Dow Chemical Co. steered $2 million to a Michigan “dark money” nonprofit in 2012 whose ads helped defeat a union-backed ballot measure aimed at protecting collective bargaining rights, the Center for Public Integrity has learned.

The giant chemical maker was one of several corporations that helped finance a web of so-called “social welfare” nonprofits and trade associations that are active in politics but not legally obligated to publicly identify their funders.

An examination of corporate “good governance” disclosures, however, shows several of these politically active Michigan-based nonprofits received donations from companies including health insurer Aetna Inc., Johnson & Johnson and cigarette maker Reynolds American Inc.

Ahead of the 2012 election, unions pushed for a ballot measure that would have enshrined collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. The top underwriters of the ballot measure’s opposition were the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Alliance for Business Growth.

Protecting Michigan Taxpayers — the public face of the opposition — raised about $23 million, including $6.4 million from the Michigan Chamber and $5.5 million from the Michigan Alliance for Business Growth, according to state campaign finance records.

In ads, the group blasted the union-endorsed Proposal 2 as the “Union Boss Ballot Initiative” and a “special interest power play.” Supporters of Proposal 2 countered that they faced a “movement to crush labor unions.”

Michigan 501(c)(4) groups accepting corporate cash
NonprofitCorporate contributionsNumber of known corporate donorsParty affiliation
Michigan Jobs and Labor Foundation$17,5006Republican
Richardville Fund$7,5001Republican
Make Michigan First$6,7505Republican
West Michigan Community Preservation Fund$5,7506Republican
On Duty for Michigan$5,5003Republican
Fund for Michigan’s Future$5,0001Republican
Future Michigan$4,0003Republican
Michigan Quality of Life Fund$3,0002Democrat
Committee for a Prosperous Michigan$2,5001Democrat
Forward Michigan Fund$2,5001Republican
Source: Center for Public Integrity analysis of corporate records.

Voters soundly defeated the measure.

Because the politically active nonprofits were not required to reveal their contributors, they effectively hid the identity of the donors who fueled the opposition.

Dow Chemical — one of the largest companies in Michigan — gave $2 million to the Michigan Alliance for Business Growth in 2012 and another $611,700 to the Michigan Chamber, according to records posted by the company on its website.

Tax records indicate that no other donor gave more that year to the Michigan Alliance for Business Growth.

Sara Steele, a Dow Chemical spokeswoman, declined to answer specific questions about the company’s financial support of the two groups.

Michigan lawmakers have also benefited from politically active nonprofits.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, is connected to a nonprofit called On Duty for Michigan, a nod to his campaign slogan, which raised $202,000 in 2012, according to tax records.

Corporate records show this nonprofit has received money from agriculture giant Monsanto Co. ($2,500), Aetna ($2,000) and CVS Caremark Corp. ($1,000).

Troy Cumings, executive director of the group, said On Duty for Michigan was established to assist in the transition between attorneys general in 2010, and that it engages in issue advocacy and other programming to “defray taxpayer cost.”

Cumings added that donors who contribute to the group this year will be identified, although this new disclosure policy would not affect past contributors.

Meanwhile, Kim MacMaster, the wife of GOP state Sen. Greg MacMaster, heads a social welfare nonprofit called the Fund for Michigan’s Future, which collected $5,000 from Aetna in 2012.

In September, on the heels of MacMaster’s announcement that he would run for a new, open state senate seat, the fund produced ads that thanked citizens for letting MacMaster be their “trusted voice in northern Michigan.”

Similarly, the pro-Republican Michigan Jobs and Labor Foundation raised about $630,000 in 2012, which it used for “polling and educational seminars,” among other expenditures, according to tax records.

Corporate donors to the group that year included energy company Exelon Corp. ($10,000), Aetna ($2,250), Pfizer Inc. ($2,000), Johnson & Johnson ($1,250), CVS Caremark ($1,000) and Reynolds American ($1,000), according to a Center for Public Integrity review of company records.

When the Center for Public Integrity attempted to contact the Foundation, it received this email from Steve Linder, the president and managing partner of the Sterling Corp., which is affiliated with the group: “Do not contact anyone from the Michigan Jobs and Labor Foundation again. No one will respond.”

Democratic lawmakers have also dived into the political nonprofit game.

The Michigan Quality of Life Fund was originally founded in 2001 by former Democratic state Rep. Kwame Kilpatrick — who went on to serve as mayor of Detroit and is now serving time in prison following corruption convictions — although more than a dozen Democratic leaders in the Michigan House of Representatives have been associated with the group.

The nonprofit’s current president is Democratic state Rep. Brandon Dillon. State Rep. Sam Singh serves as its vice president. And state Rep. Pam Faris also serves as a director.

The group helps Democrats by hosting trainings, “community forums” and “leadership retreats” for “community leaders, activists and students.”

In 2012, the Fund received $2,000 from Aetna and $1,000 from CVS Caremark, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of company records.

All the while, Michigan’s already weak rules requiring that outside groups report only the most basic of information about political ads have gotten even weaker.

Under legislation signed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in December, makers of so-called “issue ads” — those that mention candidates ahead of Election Day but don’t overtly call for their election or defeat — need not report their expenditures, let alone the donors who fund them.

The disclosure of such spending would usually be required in federal races.

Rich Robinson, president of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, worries that politically active nonprofits will now become even more pervasive in the state’s politics.

“The direction of the legislature is going the wrong way right now in terms of transparency and accountability in our campaigns,” he said.

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SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

jan v
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jan v

all the lobbyists are running all our government agencies and all the career civil servants who know how to run the country have been fired. YOU think this is a good thing ? what a crock…

thomas alessi
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thomas alessi

I am for Trump

Martin Shellabarger
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J. Stevenson, what are you drinking? Trump has more lobbyists in his administration than probably any other president. Trump is totally “for sale”, and the corporations know it. Grow a brain!

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.