Michigan gubernatorial finance reports raise concern about price tag of elections

Friday, July 28, 2017 - 3:40pm

Michigan’s gubernatorial candidates are leaning into campaign fundraising, with five declared or prospective candidates already backed by over $1 million in finances, according to the July finance reports, which were due Tuesday.

Gretchen Whitmer, former state Senate minority leader, has raised the most money in donations thus far, reporting $1,531,676. Though Whitmer has the most name recognition and is backed by multiple unions and national organizations like Emily’s List, Shri Thanedar, a political newcomer, is ahead in total finances.

Though Thanedar hasn’t raised nearly as much as Whitmer, he has invested $3.3 million of his own money into his campaign, after selling 60 percent of his chemical testing company. A University of Michigan alum with a doctorate in chemistry, Thanedar has drawn parallels to Gov. Rick Snyder, both in having no political experience during the election and being from Ann Arbor. In the 2011 gubernatorial race, Snyder invested more than $6 million of his personal fortune.

However, Thanedar’s lack of name recognition leaves him with a rather long road to travel, especially when up against front-runner Whitmer, who recently won the endorsement of University Regent Mark Bernstein (D) after he pulled out of the race. In his statement, Bernstein tasked voters with uniting behind Whitmer’s values.

“A divisive and expensive Democratic primary would only distract us from this essential task,” he said.

The vast expenses required to run a campaign have been a point of contention for years, across all levels of office. In the 2014 gubernatorial race, Snyder, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer spent a combined total of about $58.3 million, according to the Detroit Free Press. In 2006, the race between former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Republican challenger Dick DeVos cost over $80 million.

If the 14 prospective candidates don’t follow in Bernstein’s footprints and unite behind a candidate, the 2018 election is on track to be the most costly yet, setting a problematic precedent, according to rising LSA junior Amanda Delekta, vice president of internal affairs of the University’s chapter of College Republicans.

“Money plays a pivotal role in campaigns on all levels in government and it is disheartening to turn an election, what should be a discourse of ideas and solutions, into which candidate can raise the most money,” she said.

Additionally, Abdul El-Sayed, another University alum and democratic candidate, has been raising large sums of money, topping the $1 million mark ahead of the filing deadline. El-Sayed has been campaigning aggressively across the state in an effort to catch up to Whitmer.

"Rather than establishment insiders, Michiganders want bold ideas, inspiration, energy, and fresh progressive leadership," El-Sayed said in a statement.

Neither the University’s chapter of College Republicans or College Democrats have endorsed a candidate, though LSA junior Lauren Schandevel, public relations chair of College Democrats and a columnist for the Daily, said student involvement will be critical to the gubernatorial race.

“We love being a platform for students who are a huge part of the grassroots movement,” Shandevel said.

On the Republican side, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is widely expected to receive the Republican nomination, has nearly $1.6 million he could use for his campaign, according to the Detroit Free Press, though he hasn’t announced he is running yet. Schuette received large donations from the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers PAC and the DTE Energy Co. PAC, both about $30,000 each. 

At the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island, Schuette addressed rumors of his campaign but still didn’t announce.

“We need a jobs governor from the Republican Party in 2018,” he said. “I’m not announcing today. My focus is jobs and paychecks and education.”

Likely opponent Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who also has not announced, has a $1.2 million fundraising total. Both Calley and Schuette’s term limits are up for their respective positions, and even without announcing their plans to run, have pulled far ahead of official candidates Dr. Jim Hines, an obstetrician, and Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R–Canton), one of the most conservative voices in the state legislature.

Hines spent most of his campaign funds collecting the petition signatures required for nomination leaving him with little over $6,000 in funds, even after putting over $300,000 of his own money into the campaign.

Colbeck, who just announced his campaign on Saturday, reported having about $23,000 in the bank.

Among other Democrats vying for the nomination are William Cobbs, retired Xerox executive and U.S. Navy veteran with about $2,000 in the bank, and Southfield attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who reported a token $5 donation to his campaign in June and hasn’t closed the campaign committee he used to run as the Democratic candidate in 1998. Other Democratic candidates Justin Giroux, Kentiel White, and Clyde Darnell Lynch did not file finance reports with the Secretary of State.