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What do campaign finance documents tell us about the November 5th elections in Grand Rapids?

October 28, 2019

Campaign finances are not the only thing that determine elections, but money does carry a great deal of weight, even in local races.

People, organizations or other entities that contribute significant sums to candidates are buying access, if their candidate is elected or re-elected. In addition, those who finance candidates are almost always guaranteed that the recipients of election contributions will embrace the issue or position of those making the contribution. If it didn’t work that way, then those with money would not be contributing directly to candidates.

During the primary, we posted a piece about the campaign finances for the 2nd Ward Grand Rapids City Commission race, since it was the only one that has more than two candidates running for that position. 

For the November 5th election, there are candidates looking to win city commission and mayoral seats. Third Ward Commissioner Moody is running unopposed, so he has filed a waiver for campaign finances, since he didn’t need to raise much.

The Mayoral challenger to Rosalynn Bliss, Daniel Schutte, also submitted a waiver for campaign finances, which means the only candidates to submit campaign finance documents are Rosalynn Bliss, 1st Ward candidates Jon O’Connor and Allison Lutz, plus second ward candidates Wendy Falb and Milinda Ysasi. We are providing links to the complete documents submitted for the deadline of October 25 and will provide a summary of some of the larger contributions or other notable contributors.

Incumbent Mayor Rosalynn Bliss reported raising $39,637 for the current time period. Some of the larger contributions came from members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure and a few PACs: 

  • Realtors PAC of MI $2,500
  • Vince Novak $1,175
  • Sam Cummings $675
  • Steve Heacock $550
  • Charlie Secchia $500
  • Mike VanGessel $500
  • J.C. Huizenga $500
  • Rental Property Owners Association $500
  • Friends of West MI Business $500
  • ITC Holdings PAC $500

There were at least 25 other $500 contributions and most of those came from the business and professional class. Mayor Bliss also received contributions from numerous current or former elected officials and candidates such as Dave Bulkowski, Wendy Falb, Ruth Kelly, Jon O’Connor, Jim Talen, Mary Alice Williams, Milinda Ysasi, George Heartwell, Joe Jones, Nathaniel Moody and Stephen Wooden.

For Mayor Bliss to receive funding from major power brokers in this community, just like she did in her first bid for Mayor, suggests that they are in no way threatened by the positions and policies she has championed during her tenure as Mayor.

First Ward City Commission

The First Ward race is between incumbent Jon O’Connor and first time candidate Allison Lutz.

During this current filing period, O”Connor had raised $20,025. Notable contributions to Jon O’Connor were from: 

  • Grand Rapids Police Officers Labor Council $5,000
  • Realtors PAC MI $2,000
  • Nico Pento Terrapin Care Station (Cannabis) $1,000
  • Leah Bailey CEO Fluresh LLC (Cannabis) $1,000
  • Scott Bowen Attorney $1,000
  • Johnny Brann $650
  • Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce $500
  • Rental Property Owners Association $500
  • Jeff Edwards/Rockford Construction $500
  • Paul Flynn Gentex $500
  • Steve Pestka Attorney $500
  • Dan Hibma $250
  • GCSI 21st Century PAC $250
  • Marlin Feyen Feyen Zylstra $250
  • Mike VanGessel Rockford Construction $100

Current or former elected officials who hae contributed to O’Connor are Brandon Dillon, Carol Hennessy, George Heartwell, Roy Schmidt, Tony Baker, Ruth Kelly, Rosalynn Bliss and Wendy Falb.

O’Connor has been the recipient of funding from the police union in the past, but this time also got money from one of the more vocal supporters of the GRPD, Johnny Brann. This is no surprise, considering that O’Connor has been a defender of the GRPD and supports adding new officers.

One can see that O’Connor has received funds from real estate and rental property owners, which is also consistent with his position on how to deal with issues like lack of affordable housing and gentrification in this city. The first ward incumbent also received significant funds from the cannabis industry, which is something we should pay attention to in the near future.

Allison Lutz only raised $1.952. Most of her contributions came from small donations, with the largest being from herself ($500) and Equity PAC contributing $250. Lutz has certainly taken a more progressive position on numerous key issues in the city, which is in part why Equity PAC decided to endorse her campaign.

There is a clear difference in terms of which segments of the society are backing O’Connor verses Lutz.

Second Ward City Commission

Wendy Falb raised $27,362 during the current filing period. Some of her notable contributors were: 

  • Wendy Falb $7,600
  • Grand Rapids Police Officers Association PAC $5,000
  • Grand Rapids Fire Fighters Union $5000
  • Johnny Brann $1,000
  • Scott Bowen Attorney $500
  • John Hunting $500
  • Paul Flynn Gentex $500
  • West MI Plumbers & Pipe Fitters $500

The current or former elected officials who contributed were Brandon Dillon, George Heartwell and Nathaniel Moody.

Falb also was the beneficiary of $5000 from the police union to support her campaign in the primary election and based on her campaign literature – where she supports hiring more police – the police union again was her number one contributor, with notable funding from Johnny Brann as well.

Milinda Ysasi raised a total of $10,597 during the current filing period. Some of the notable contributors were: 

  • Progressive Women’s Alliance $2,500
  • Lynn Rabaut $1,000
  • Darrel Ross Start Garden $500
  • David Sawinski Compass GLP $500
  • Peter Albertini Peter Albertini Properties $250
  • Rosalyn Bliss $250

Milinda Ysasi’s campaign has received funding from the following former or current elected officials: Ruth Kelly, Jane Gietzen, Terri Handlin, Linda Samuelson, Mary Alice Williams, Rosalynn Bliss and Lynn Rabaut.

The campaign finance data for Ysasi shows that she has received more small donations that Falb, including significant contributions from the Latino/Latinx community. Ysasi was also endorsed by Equity PAC and as you can see has won the support of the Progressive Women’s Alliance.

Based on the campaign finance data for the second ward race, there seems to be a clear demarcation between the two candidates in terms of which interests they represent.

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