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Appointments, Inaugural contributions and buying influence in the Whitmer Administration

February 13, 2019

In November, we posted a story looking at Gov. Whitmer’s transition team and noted that they were primarily made up of people from the business sector and those who reflected a “business as usual” approach to policy. 

Governor Whitmer has not yet filled all the appointments for her cabinet in state government as of this writing, but there has been some appointments that have raised concerns already, with the appointment of a lobbyist to be legislative director and a former charter school advocate to be the senior advisor for the Michigan Prosperity position. Doug Ross is the appointment for the Michigan Prosperity position and according to an recent article, his role will be to improve workforce talent and educational attainment and further overall economic development outcomes.” On the education front, this description sounds similar to what Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is proposing – education as workforce talent development

In addition, there are other signs early on in the Whitmer administration would should also raise concerns for those hoping for more progressive policies coming out of Lansing.

First, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN), recently posted information about who the large financial backers of Governor Whitmer’s inauguration ceremony. The large contributions that the MCFN documents range from $100,000 contributors to $10,000. What follows is a list within each contribution level that people need to pay attention to:

$100,000 Contributors – Blue Cross/Blue Shield, DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, PharmaSCript of Michigan, Governmental Consultant Services Inc., Muchmore Harrington Smalley & Associates and Public Affairs Associates, with the last three all being lobbyists.

$50,000 Contributors – Chemical Bank, Delta Dentral, Honigman (law first representing ICA proposal to build a 600 bed ICE detention facility in Ionia), Ilitch Holdings, Inc.; Kandler Reed Khoury & Muchmore; Karoub Associates, McAlvey Merchant & Associates; Meijer, Inc.; Michigan Credit Union League & Affiliates; Michigan Legislative Consultants; Michigan Realtors and Quicken Loans and the Family of Companies.

$25,000 Contributors – AECOM; Boji Group; Business Leaders of Michigan; Citizens Insurance; Clark Hill; Comcast; Dewpoint; Ford Motor Company; HNTB Corporation; Huntington Bank; ITC: a Fortis Company; LeadingAge Michigan; Magna International; Michigan Association of Broadcasters-Michigan Public Broadcasting; Michigan Association of CPAs; Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association; Michigan Health & Hospital Association; Michigan Paving & Materials and Stoneco of Michigan; National Association of Theater Owners of Michigan; Pfizer; UnitedHealth Group; and Weedmaps.

$10,000 Contributors – Ascend Michigan; Atheneum Hotel; Auto Dealers of Michigan,; Butzel Long; Capitol Relations/Meridian Health Plan A Wellcare Company; Centene; Christman Company; Cinnaire; Coca-Cola Company Michigan; Dean Transportation; Deloitte; Delta Air Lines, Inc.; Detroit Medical Center; Dickinson Wright PLLC; DLZ Michigan, Inc.; Eidex; Ernst and Young; FCA US; Fritz Enterprises Inc. & Huron Valley Steel Corporation; HTC Global Services; General Motors; IGT Global Solutions Corporation; Jackson National Life Insurance Company; Kalitta Air; Karmanos Cancer Institute; The Kroger Co. of Michigan; Kyyba; LightSpeed Communications; Meredith Corporation; Michigan Corrections Organization; Michigan Funeral Directors Association; Michigan Interactive, An NIC Company; Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association; Michigan State Medical Society; Microsoft; Midland Cogeneration Venture; Midwest Independent Retailers Association; Miller Canfield; Netlogx; Penske Corporation; PhRMA; Priority Health; RNDC of Michigan; Shelborne Development; Sun Valley Foods; Small Business Association of Michigan; Switch; TILT Holdings; TransCanada; Uniprop; and Verizon.

Now, I left out unions, a few environmental organizations and Planned Parenthood, but compared to the number of private sector contributors listed above, their numbers were small in comparison. One could say at this point that making contributions of between $10,000 and $100,000 to Governor Whitmer;s inauguration ceremony is all about buying access. This is the standard thinking with political contributions in general. However, what we need to ask ourselves here is what else are large contributors expecting?

For example, the AFL-CIO contributed $10,000, but are they expecting that workers rights, workplace democracy, wages, benefits, etc will improve under Governor Whitmer or are they just hoping that things will not get worse than they already are for working class people? Honigman law firm, which contributed $50,000, might be expecting the State of Michigan to endorse the proposed ICE detention facility in Ionia (run by ICA). One could argue that other contributors from the private sector are not just buying access, but expectations that the Whitmer administration will be friendly to business interests throughout the state.

Additionally, there was an event on February 13th in Grand Rapids that should also raise serious questions for people hoping for progressive policies changes in Lansing under Governor Whitmer. The Right Place Inc., which is part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, hosted a breakfast with the new Governor, which included 400 members of the business community. Check out the photos from The Right Place Inc. from the Investor Breakfast with Gov. Whitmer. 

Now, do people think that there was much discussion about progressive policy proposals at this breakfast or did the business community of West Michigan leave the event feeling confident that their interests would not be threatened under Governor Whitmer’s leadership? The fact that this was the first public appearance after the State of the State address should indeed raise serious questions for people who are hoping for Michigan to adopt more progressive policies, policies that are based on racial justice, gender equity, strong environmental protections, an expansion of workers rights, a restoration of teacher pensions, countering the attacks against public education, reducing the privatization of public services, ending the war on immigrants, putting a stop to Line 5 and making Flint’s fight for clean water and environmental justice a top priority?

This writer is not waiting to see if these things will happen because of state government. Instead, I believe that for these kinds of policies and practices to be adopted we need to put our collective hopes into the collective efforts of various social movements across the state.

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