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The West Michigan Power Structure is more than the DeVos Family

March 23, 2017

For years now we have been writing about the West Michigan power structure. What we mean by the West Michigan power structure is the individuals and organizations that have the most power in determining political, economic and social realities in the greater Grand Rapids area. 

Too often we have focused on the DeVos family members, in part, because they have the most combined wealth, along with the fact that they have inserted themselves in numerous structures with the goal of influencing the policies and practices of government, education, business, non-profit and cultural realities in Grand Rapids.

However, this focus on the DeVos family has also resulted in limited attention given to other people in the capitalist class that have often flown under the radar.

A recent report by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) on the financial backing of judges in the November 2016 election, illustrates the importance of shinning a light on other members of the West Michigan power structure. 

In the MCFN report, they identify four members of the capitalist class in Grand Rapids that made significant financial contributions to the judges that ended up winning the election. Those four individuals cited in the MCFN report are Micheal Jandernoa (42 North Partners), John Kennedy (Autoncam), Peter Secchia (formerly with Universal Forest Products) and Mark Murray (Meijer Corporation).

You can see from the graphic above, the amount of money that these four people contributed to Judges Viviano and Larsen. Jandernoa contributed a total of $13,600, Kennedy $13,600, Secchia $13,600 and Murray $13,600.

This is not new for these members of the West Michigan power structure, in terms of how much money they use to influence the outcomes of elections. In a report published by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network in 2015, they track those individuals who have contributed the most during the 2013-2014 election cycle. Above is the list of major donors from that report. Both Jandernoa and Kennedy are listed in the chart as some of the largest contributors. To the right, you can just how much and who were the recipients of funds from John and Nancy Kennedy.

Besides using their money to influence electoral outcomes, members of the West Michigan power structure also play other roles in influencing the policies, practices and outcomes in the greater Grand Rapids area. One role they play is to play an active role, often as members of boards of organizations that practice the same values that these men embrace.

For instance, some of these same men sit on the board of directors of the West Michigan Policy Forum, which is one of the most influential  policy groups in the area. All four of the men mentioned earlier – Jandernoa, Kennedy, Secchia and Murray – are members of the board of directors.  Since the creation of the West Michigan Policy Forum, they have influence state policy on the business tax, making Michigan a Right to Work state, education policy and most recently attempting to get state employee pensions eliminated.

John Kennedy sits on the board of the Right Place Inc, which promotes business interests in West Michigan. John Kennedy also sits of the board of the far right think tank, the Acton Institute. Michael Jandernoa, John Kennedy, Peter Secchia and Mark Murray all sit on the board of the GVSU Foundation.  Michael Jandernoa and Peter Secchia sit on the board of directors of the Van Andel Institute

This is just a sampling of what role some of the members of the West Michigan power structure in the larger community, particularly in positions of power with organizations and entities that have tremendous influence in this community. All of this is to say that there is a interlocking system of power in West Michigan, often made up a small group of people who just happen to be members of the capitalist class.

We hope to continue to shine the light on the West Michigan power structure and its members.

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