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Grand Rapids Power Structure: Part III

May 28, 2018

This is our third article in our series on the Grand Rapids Power Structure. In the first piece, we provided an overview of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, along with a framework for how those with power function in this city. 

In our second piece, we looked at the most powerful family in Grand Rapids, the DeVos Family. In today’s post we are going to identify the other members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure and what role they play in influencing the economy, politics and social dynamics in this community.

There are numerous individuals and families that also wield tremendous power in Grand Rapids. In fact, there are too many to name, but we want to provide some insight into those who have a higher profile within the local power structure.

Meijer Family

Next to the DeVos Family, the Meijer Family has the largest economic and political impact in Grand Rapids. According to the 2018 Forbes listing of the wealthiest people, Doug and Hank Meijer are together work $6.1 billion. Doug and Hank are co-chairs of the Meijer Corporation, which is one of the largest retail chains in the mid-west.

Like the DeVos family, the Meijer Family name can be seen on numerous buildings in the Greater Grand Rapids area. There is the Meijer Gardens and the Meijer Broadcast Center. However, the largest area in which the Meijer Family wields power in with the Meijer Corporation. For years, Meijer has taken advantage of local communities by strong-arming municipalities for tax breaks when they chose to build a new store. Taxpayers all across the mid-west have provided the Meijer Corporation with millions in tax subsidies, even though those communities have no real say in providing these subsidies.

Politically, the Meijer Family uses its wealth to fund candidates. At the federal level, Meijer Inc. has contributed over $1.2 million to candidates, primarily to Republican candidates. 

At the state level, Meijer has also used its wealth to influence electoral politics. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the Meijer Family contributed $333,300 during the 2015-2016 election cycle in Michigan, with that money going to Republican candidates and groups like Business Leaders for Michigan. Business Leaders for Michigan is made up of the CEOs of Michigan’s largest corporations. 

Van Andel Family

Along with the DeVos Family, the Van Andel Family was responsible for the founding of the Amway Corporation. Jay Van Andel, now deceased, has been succeeded by his sons, who have continued to influence Grand Rapids, both economically and politically. 

The Van Andel Family is worth $4.8 billion. Steve Van Andel was until last year, co-President of the Amway Corporation, along with Doug DeVos. Steve’s brother David, is the CEO of the Van Andel Institute, which was founded in 1996, here in Grand Rapids. The Van Andel name is also visible on many buildings in the area, like the Van Andel Arena and the Van Andel Public Museum.

The Van Andel Family foundations contribute to numerous far right entities nationally, like the Heritage Foundation and locally to Spectrum Health and the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

Politically, the Van Andel Family has contributed a sizable amount of money to influence electoral politics. The Van Andel Institute does its own share of lobbying at the federal level, but the members of the Van Andel Family have contributed a substantial amount of money in Michigan electoral politics. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the Van Andel Family contributed $254,000 in the 2015-2016 election cycle.  In the current election cycle, the Van Andel Family has contributed to numerous candidates in West Michigan, most notably State Senator Peter MacGregor

The Van Andel Family also has a long history of supporting hyper-conservative Christian organizations and has had representation on the national, state and Grand Rapids chapters of the Chamber of Commerce.

John Kennedy

John Kennedy is the CEO of Autocam Corporation. Kennedy has a long history as a conservative businessman. The Autocam CEO has been a vocal opponent of women’s reproductive rights and was outspoken against the Affordable Care Act

Kennedy, a Catholic businessman, is also a major contributor to the Republican Party. The graphic on the right here shows where he spent his money to support politicians and influence public policy in Michigan between 2013 – 2015. In 2016, John Kennedy contributed $589,700 to state races and is continuing this trend in the current election cycle by contributing several hundred thousand between January of 2017 and April of 2018

John Kennedy also sits on the boards of numerous organizations in West Michigan, a topic we will explore in our next post on the Grand Rapids Power Structure.

Peter Secchia

Peter Secchia is the former CEO of Universal Forest Products and was the US Ambassador to Italy during the Reagan Administration.

Secchia is a name that can be found on numerous buildings on the GVSU downtown and Medical Mile campuses, because of his large contributions to these construction projects.

Peter Secchia was named to chair the Secchia Commission in 1994, by then Michigan Governor John Engler. Engler has served on numerous boards and is also a major contributor to Michigan State University.

In the 1980s, Secchia started a real estate property management company called Sibsco

Like the other members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, Secchia has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns. During the 2015 – 2016 election cycle, Secchia contributed over $200,000 and in the current election cycle, Secchia has already contributed tens of thousands of dollars, all of which to Republican candidates and Political Action Committees. 

In 2006, Peter Secchia hosted an event at his home in East Grand Rapids, which featured then Vice President Dick Cheney. The event was protested by members of ACTIVATE, because of Cheney’s ongoing support of US war crimes in Iraq. The police prevented protestors from getting close to Secchia’s home and said that protesting in residential areas of the city was prohibited. The West Michigan chapter of the ACLU became involved and got that ordinance overturned in 2007

Michael Jandernoa

Jandernoa is the former president of Perrigo. In recent years, Jandernoa has been involved with 42 North Partners, which he created with his wife Sue. In addition, Jandernoa serves as General Partner at Bridge Street Capital Fund I, L.P, where he sits on the Executive Committee with John Kennedy.  He is the Co- Founder of Grand Angels, LLC., which is another investment capital entity in Grand Rapids.

You can see from the chart here on the right that Jandernoa has used his wealth to influence state politics. In addition, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, Jandernoa gave $437,500 in the 2015 – 2016 election cycle (the 9th most in the state) to the Republican Party and has already contributed tens of thousands in the 2017 – 2018 election cycle, most notably to candidates from the Greater Grand Rapids area, like State Senator Peter MacGregor ($10,000).

Jandernoa also sits on the boards of numerous groups that are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, which we will explore in our next article.

Mike VanGessel

While VanGessel’s personal wealth does not match that of the other people listed above, his role in influencing community outcomes is significant.

As CEO of Rockford Construction, VanGessel has positioned his company to win millions in tax breaks from the City of Grand Rapids. Since Rockford Construction moved to the westside of Grand Rapids, the company has made it a mission to gentrify the near westside, tearing down old housing and commercial property to primarily build housing and new commercial space that benefits the professional class. 

In addition to its westside expansion, Rockford Construction has partnered with the DeVos Family and their Amplify GR project, which seeks to redesign whole neighborhoods in the southeast part of the city. Rockford Construction has been looking to gentrify part of southeast Grand Rapids, at least since 2014, when they first began designing plans to transform that part of the city, even before people who lived there knew what they were up to. 

VanGessel also does not use his money to influence electoral politics to the degree that the other members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure do, but he is involved in numerous boards and organizations that play a major role in determining policy in the area.

J.C. Huizenga

J.C. Huizenga is the Chairman and Founder of the National Heritage Academies, a Charter Schools entity which has benefited tremendously from the privatization of public education trend over the past two decades. 

According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, J.C. Huizenga contributed $260,600 to influence state policy in the 2015 – 2016 election cycle (all to the Republican Party). So far in the 2017 – 2018 election cycle, Huizenga has contributed to several candidates, along with making a $25,000 contribution to Bill Schuette

J.C. Huizenga sits on the board of the right wing think tank, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and is involved in several area organizations that make up part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, which we will explore further in our next posting.

Blake Krueger

Blake Krueger is the CEO of Wolverine Worldwide, manufacturer of footwear, and now the target of one of the worst environmental contamination cases in West Michigan in decades

According to 2016 records, Krueger’s wealth was estimated at over 7 billion dollars. The Wolverine CEO has profited handsomely while the company has downsized its workforce, eliminating hundreds of jobs in recent years. 

The CEO of Wolverine World Wide, Blake Krueger, is also a significant contributor to political candidates, as a means of buying influence at the state level, particularly with the GOP. In the 2011-2012 election cycle, the Wolverine CEO contributed $49,500 to the GOP. Krueger has continued to contribute big money to the GOP since 2012 and specifically has contributed directly to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s campaigns.

The Grand Rapids Power Structure consists of many other individuals, like Grand Rapids Chamber CEO Rick Baker, CWD partner Sam Cummings, Huntington Bank President Jim Dunlap, Jeff Connolly (Blue Cross/Blue Shield), Matthew Hayworth (Hayworth Inc), Doug Small (Experience GR) and many more.

In our next posting, we will look at the organizations that have have a tremendous political and economic influence in Grand Rapids, as well as the interlocking relationships between the members of the Grand Rapids Power structure and these organizations.

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