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Wednesday, February 5,2014

Political notes from around town

Republicans backed by DeVos family donors, bipartisan support for voter access and more

by Walt Sorg

This story was corrected on Feb. 6.

Democrats are making the case that one family is buying undue influence in the state Senate. Campaign finance reports filed Friday provide major ammunition.

The Senate Republican Committee reported raising $445,593 in the fourth quarter of 2013 — $360,000 (81 percent) of which came from members of the DeVos family (heirs to the Amway fortune) in the form of nine $40,000 contributions. The remaining $86,000 came from 42 contributors, an average of more than $2,000 each. The Senate GOP fund goes into this election year with nearly $1.6 million in the bank.

Senate Democrats raised just $64,003 in the quarter and have a campaign balance of $526,410. Top contributors included the campaign committees of term-limited Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer ($5,000) and East Lansing state Senate candidate Curtis Hertel, Jr. ($4,020).

Among local candidates, the biggest campaign balance belongs to Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township, whose district includes southern Ingham County. Hune raised more than $41,000 and added $105,000 of his own money. Hune has $211,000 banked for the 2014 campaign.

State Reps. Tom Cochran, D-Mason, and Teresa Abed, D-Grand Ledge, both raised about $48,000 in anticipation of tough reelection campaigns. No potential opponents for either of them filed a campaign finance report.

Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, raised $34,135 but transferred $25,000 of it to the state House Democratic Campaign Fund and several individual campaigns. Rep. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, raised $40,110; Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, pulled in $48,318 and has a balance of $91,351. Singh, Schor, Hune and Jones are all prohibitive favor-ites in what are considered one-party districts.

In statewide races, Gov. Rick Snyder raised four times the amount — $5.1 million — as Democratic challenger Mark Schauer — $1.4 million — in 2013. Schauer has filed for public funding for his campaign.

Attorney General Bill Schuette raised nearly $1.4 million for his reelection campaign. His likely opponent, Michigan State University law Professor Mark Totten, collected $170,695. Secretary of State Ruth Johnson goes into 2014 with a campaign balance of more than $526,000. No Democrat reported raising money for that race.

Bipartisan effort seeks to expand voting access

A report from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration may spur some rare bipartisan cooperation in Michigan.

The commission, co-chaired by the legal counsels of the Obama and Romney presidential campaigns, urges states to expand online voter registration and early balloting, and update electronic voting equipment as first-generation voting machines grow obsolete.

Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has urged lawmakers to adopt “no-reason” absentee voting, something introduced in the state House by Ann Arbor Democrat Jeff Irwin. Currently, only voters meeting specific criteria are allowed to vote early. Republicans, while open to expanding absentee voting, are pushing for requiring in-person early ballots (with photo ID) due to fears of voter fraud.

Both Lansing and East Lansing have long encouraged early in-person early voting at the respective city halls, with additional early voting the Saturday before elections.

The presidential commission report mirrors some of the concerns raised earlier this month by the Michigan Election Reform Alliance regarding optical-scan vote tabulation systems. Audits of sample precincts showed machine-count error rates of up to about 0.5 percent, enough to change the outcome of a close election.

Democrats decry Koch Brother ad targeting Peters, Obamacare

Koch brothers-funded political ads attacking U.S. Senate candidate Gary Peters on healthcare are drawing fire on two fronts.

The state Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission charging the ad was coordinated with GOP Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land in violation of campaign finance law, noting Land herself bragged in a speech about he conversations with “independent” PACs.

And liberal blogger Eric Baerren is taking on the state’s political reporters for failing to report factual errors and distortions in the 30-second commercial.

The ad says 225,000 Michigan residents had healthcare policies canceled due to Obamacare requirements. The reality: They were “actually told that they could change to a better policy; they were not told they could no longer have insurance, as the ad implies” Baerren posted on his Michigan- Liberal.com website.

Baerren’s complaint: Political reporters spend their time on the “horse race” — polls and tactics — but not the substance of campaigns.

Darga’s in for 8th against Rogers, will another Dem join?

Retired state demographer Ken Darga has formally entered the Democratic race for the 8th Congressional District, hoping to challenge seven-term incumbent Mike Rogers, R-Brighton.

Darga, an economist, said his top priority is restoring manufacturing in the U.S. “be-cause I am concerned that America cannot survive a major international conflict if too many of its factories are on the other side of the ocean.”

Central Michigan University Professor Susan Grettenberger, also a Lansing resident, is expected to decide soon whether she will enter the race. She is being encouraged by a new online petition through MoveOn.org started by her next-door neighbor, Mike Vasas, a public school music teacher. As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition had gained 454 signatures.

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