Nonprofit Group Becoming A ‘Dominant Player’ In Some Michigan Primary Campaigns; Who Are They?

Source:  Conservative Choices Newsletter Aug. 6, 2018

Broadcast TV Ads Are Usually Rare In Primary Races For The State Legislature, But Citizens For Energizing Michigan’s Economy Is Running Them In Five Different Races.

In the final days before Michigan’s primary election, the most active TV advertiser in races for the state Legislature is a nonprofit organization that’s linked to the state’s largest energy provider.

The group, Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy, doesn’t have to disclose where its money is coming from or how much it’s spending in individual races. Its actions are drawing criticism from opponents who are concerned about its influence, the sources of its funds and the general nature of the advertisements.

“Even people who are not targets who are witnessing what they’re doing are not happy,” said state Rep. Gary Glenn, a Republican from Williams Township who chairs the House Energy Committee and has been a critic of the state’s large utilities. Glenn, who is running for the state Senate this year, has been the subject of attacks from a separate nonprofit organization.

In five other primary races for either the Michigan House or the Michigan Senate, Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy has sponsored broadcast TV ads promoting one of the candidates. In a sixth race, the group has aired radio ads. The nonprofit organization emerged in 2013, using the address of a law office in Okemos. The group once focused its efforts on encouraging public opposition to a legislative proposal to expand the the state’s electric choice program, which limits how many customers can get their electricity from alternative suppliers.

A spokesperson for Jackson-based Consumers Energy acknowledged to MLive in 2014 that the utility was using shareholder dollars – not customer dollars – to support Citizens for Energizing for Michigan’s Economy at the time. In 2017, Consumers Energy reported spending $20 million on contributions to Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy, according to a filing with the Michigan Public Service Commission. The ads make a variety of positive statements about former Rep Mike Callton (29% MCU rating; 6th worse in the House), former Rep. Aric Nesbitt (43% MCU rating), Rep. David Maturen (43% MCU rating, Sarah Lightner and Graham Filler, a Republican running in the DeWitt-area 93rd District. The ads in each race are different, and they touch on a variety of subjects.

Nesbitt, the former House Energy Policy chair, Callton, Roberts and Maturen voted in favor of a re-write of Michigan energy laws in 2016 that was supported by the state’s largest utilities. The primary opponents of Callton and Roberts voted against the 2016 re-write. They are Reps. John Bizon, a Republican from Battle Creek, who is running against Callton, and Rep. Tom Barrett, a Republican from Potterville.

Another nonprofit, Faithful Conservatives for Michigan, has been targeting Glenn, the current House Energy chair and an outspoken supporter of expanding electric choice, in his race for the state Senate this summer. As of July 30, the group had already spent an estimated $221,000 on broadcast TV ads either promoting Glenn’s primary opponent, former state Rep. Kevin Daley, or slamming Glenn. The anti-Glenn ads compare Glenn to a snake. The group has also aired radio advertisements and sent out mailers.

Glenn believes utilities are behind the ads against him. He points to the fact that Citizens for Energizing Michigan’s Economy reserved ad time on an AM radio station in his area in mid-April. The group canceled the order. Later in the month, Faithful Conservatives for Michigan began reserving time on radio, cable TV and broadcast TV in Glenn’s area.

State Rep. John Reilly, a Republican from Oakland, filed a complaint with the Michigan Bureau of Elections about the Faithful Conservatives ads, saying they weren’t issue ads but “political attacks.” The complaint asked the bureau to conduct an investigation and refer to the matter to the state’s attorney general and the IRS.
“… Faithful Conservatives for Michigan’s behavior was totally insensible from the perspective of an issue advocacy group, but completely logical for a group electioneering for Kevin Daley against Gary Glen,” Reilly wrote in his complaint.

Daley’s campaign has said it has no idea who’s behind the Faithful Conservatives ads.

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