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The Kings of Michigan

March 31, 2011

Last week, GRIID shared a Mother Jones news report showing how Governor Rick Snyder’s emergency manager/martial law legislation came directly from the radically conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy (slogan: “Advancing Liberty and Prosperity.”)

In fact, many of the Mackinac-generated “research” studies are nothing but thinly disguised class warfare tactics that Snyder appears to be using currently in his takeover of the state on behalf of the capitalists. The “mismanagement” of Michigan cities (justification for putting them in the hands of private corporations and dissolving union contracts) is explored in one study. Attacks on collective bargaining and union spending are covered. So is the supposed overspending on public education in Michigan. Another paper recommends the repeal of Michigan’s Wage Act. (To see a listing of all studies, click here.)

But a more significant question is: Who is driving this neo-conservative think tank? Why is the Governor siphoning his ideas directly from it into legislative policy? Who’s really running Michigan?

Information about the people funding the Mackinac Center is sketchy, with donations closely guarded. SourceWatch provides a list of some current and/or past donors, and in some ways the list is unsurprising. It’s well known that Dick DeVos has put significant money into the place, along with various family members. It served as a kind of policy launch pad for the issues highlighted in his failed campaign for governor. Citizens of Michigan would be alarmed to learn that, having rejected him for that post, DeVos and other wealthy capitalists appear to be gaining control of the state via three connected centers of power.

Along with the Mackinac Center, take a look at an organization called Business Leaders for Michigan. This group of overlords runs most of the major business concerns in the state, and membership in the organization is by invitation only. If you aren’t an upper-level executive in a company with revenues of more than $500 million per year, and if your pay isn’t at least in the upper six figures, don’t hold your breath waiting for your invitation in the mail. It’s not coming. Collectively, the 81 members of BLM make $107.5 million a year in salary.

Residents of West Michigan will recognize a lot of the names: Jim Hackett from Steelcase; Richard Haworth from Haworth; Mark Bissell, the vacuum-cleaner king; Dan Gordon of Gordon Food Services; Blake Krueger from Wolverine World Wide.

But where it gets interesting is when you start matching up the financial supporters of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy with members of BLM. Here are some examples:

Mackinac Donor: Chase Foundation

BLM Member: Sarah McClelland, President, Michigan Region/Chase Bank

Mackinac Donor: Hanover Insurance Group Foundation

BLM Member: Frederick Eppinger, President and CEO, Hanover Insurance Group

Mackinac Donor: Herbert and Grace Dow Foundation

BLM Member: Andrew Liveris, CEO, Dow Chemical

Mackinac Donor: General Motors Foundation

BLM Member: Daniel Akerson, CEO/Chairman of the Board, General Motors

Mackinac Donor: Jay and Betty Van Andel Institute

BLM Member: Steve Van Andel, Amway

Mackinac Donors: Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation, Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation

BLM Member: Doug DeVos, Amway

Another interesting connection is the BLM “turnaround plan” for Michigan, which includes: reducing the compensation of state employees…having state employees pay more for their health insurance…encouraging sharing of services between local governments…eliminating binding arbitration for police officers and firefighters…deregulating workplace safety standards…reducing the Michigan Business Tax…stop me when this starts to sound familiar.

During Rick Snyder’s campaign, when he was coyly ducking questions about the details of his 10-point recovery plan, its twin was already posted on the BLM website.

The BLM appears to be the pathway by which the Mackinac Policy Center “studies” are turned into capitalist action steps. And from there, the action steps—all of which ensure that capitalists’ interests trump all—can be plunked into the hands of Rick Snyder, who was the BLM’s leading celebrity speaker at its 2011 conference. And from there into the hands of the corporate cronies with whom he’s surrounded himself.

Because there’s more apparent government tie-in to the BLM—and the Mackinac Policy Center—than just Rick Snyder’s obvious channeling of their policies. John Nixon, the State Budget Director, has been a speaker at the BLM’s Leadership Conference. So has William Schuette, a state senator who also happens to be the Trustee of the Rollin M. Gerstaker Foundation—a major Mackinac Center contributor.

Caroline Sallee, a featured speaker at the BLM’s 2011 conference, is working on a project benchmarking Michigan’s business taxes in comparison with other states. The study was commissioned by the Michigan House of Representatives.

Mark Murray, a BLM member and current president of Meijer, Inc., was formerly the Michigan State Treasurer, the Michigan State Budget Director, and the Director of the Department of Management and Budget.

Another “bridge” from one power center to the other is Andy Dillon, who ran a failed campaign for governor, following in Dick DeVos’s footsteps. He was the former vice president of GE Capital and then president of Detroit Steel Company. As Speaker of the Michigan House, he endorsed the BLM turnaround plan. Now, he’s Rick Snyder’s State Treasurer.

Doug Rothwell, the current president and CEO of the Business Leaders for Michigan, was appointed in January by Rick Snyder to be Chairman of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. As ProgressMichigan noted, “This gives BLM—a private organization—virtual control over an agency that makes decisions regarding tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and sets economic policy for the state.”

Not surprisingly, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation just published a paean of praise for Rick Snyder’s recent proposals, saying that his $1.5 billion reduction in business taxes will “level the playing field” and offer “a new level of economic certainty for business.”

It’s possible to start seeing the whole state of Michigan, with all these networked connections, as a kind of Bermuda Triangle of rulers: the current conservative state government…the Business Leaders for Michigan…and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy along with its über-wealthy patrons.

And lost in the triangle? The workers of Michigan. The unions. Local governments and their elected officials. And, of course, democracy.



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