A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Michael & Me

A Republican state senator is calling out filmmaker Michael Moore for requesting $1 million in tax subsidies for his movie “Capitalism: A Love Story,” in which the filmmaker decried the government bailout of Wall Street executives.

State Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, is asking Moore to withdraw his application from the Michigan Film Office, which would reimburse up to 42 percent for costs associated with filming in the state. According to the Web site boxofficemojo.com, the film has generated $15.9 million in gross sales worldwide. It is unknown how much it cost Moore to make his most recent documentary. But in 2008, he told an audience the documentary “Slacker Uprising” cost $2 million to make. He gave that movie away for free on his Web site.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s Kathy Hoekstra broke the story last week that Moore applied for the tax subsidy. The Michigan Film Office isn’t releasing how much money Moore would receive.

Cassis, who is chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said Moore shouldn’t be treated differently from any other filmmaker applying for the tax credits, but said his public criticisms of corporate welfare ring hollow if he asks for taxpayer dollars. Cassis said the Michigan Film Office told her Moore qualified for $1 million in tax credits.

Hoekstra’s report had Moore on video at the 2008 Traverse City Film Festival, where he asked: “Why do they need our money, from Michigan, from our taxpayers, when we’re already broke here? I mean, they play one state against another, and so they get all this free cash when they’re making billions already in profits. What’s the thinking behind that?”

“He got caught in his own rhetoric and double standards,” Cassis said. “He decried capitalism and big corporations getting government handouts, and he asked for a handout himself from all the taxpayers of Michigan. He presented himself as a defender of the poor and downtrodden, and government should not be supportive of corporate welfare, but he himself is taking money from taxpayers.

She continued, “Michael Moore, if you stand by your position in 'Capitalism: A Love Story,' then withdraw your application from the film office for refunds at the expense of and subsidized by Michigan taxpayers.”

Marc Prey, a Michigan filmmaker and a member of the Michigan Film Office Advisory Council, defended Moore’s application.

“If he applied for the tax credit, completed his film, filed his tax return and, thereafter, received a tax credit and/or refund of his unused tax credit, he was only doing what state law currently provides and encourages filmmakers to do,” Prey wrote in an e-mail. “In addition, I know for a fact that Mr. Moore relocated his production company to Michigan from New York while making "Capitalism: A Love Story." As a result, this brought a number of full-time jobs to our state that did not previously exist. If the film incentive triggered this move, then that is exactly what it was intended to do.”

Moore has not responded to media attempts to get his comments.

Hoekstra said she made four attempts to reach Moore over a two-day period last week. Moore has also not responded to requests for comment from John Stossel of Fox News, as well as from The Detroit News and the Flint Journal.

“He put himself on the movie-making landscape by trying to get GM’s Roger Smith on the record,” Hoekstra said. “I find it ironic that he seems to be just as elusive as the subject of his breakthrough movie ‘Roger and Me.’”

Last year, Moore told The Michigan Messenger he was “under pressure from the studio to do this (apply for tax credits).” Yet the Flint native told an audience in 2008 he didn't want a dime of the profits from the movie “Slacker Uprising,” which he gave away for free. Moore told reporters then that film industry experts warned him he was giving up as much as $40 million in gross sales.

Hoekstra is also looking to see if Moore applied for film credits in other states. She said Moore shot in half a dozen states. Hoekstra said Moore hasn’t applied in Washington, D.C., or Florida, and she is still looking at other states in which Moore filmed.

Moore also serves on the Michigan Film Office’s advisory board, but the film office has said the board has no impact on how films receive the tax rebate.

“As a member of the Michigan Film Office Advisory Council, I can tell you that we have an ethics policy that covers potential conflicts of interest involving our members, and we are very mindful of it,” Prey wrote. “As one might reasonably expect, members are not restricted from pursuing the same opportunities (i.e., tax credits, etc.) that are available to non-members; they are, however, prohibited from, among other things, using their position on the Council to gain an advantage that they would not otherwise have. As a result, if Mr. Moore applied for the tax credit, his application was reviewed using the same standards applicable to all applications, it was subsequently approved, and that approval was not influenced by his position on the Council, there should be no issue with it. In addition, I am confident that this was the case with respect to Mr. Moore's application.”

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