Rep. Mike Callton was a candidate for the open 87th district state House seat, and was one of just three Republicans endorsed by the MEA, the state’s largest teachers union. For someone who has yet to cast a single vote, Callton has also received an extraordinary amount of cash from the union — $5,000. This is more than the MEA has given the current Speaker of the House, and equal to the amount given to the current Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who has a lot more say-so on school spending than a new freshman.
The Michigan Education Association is the labor union of most of Michigan’s public school employees. With an agenda that supports higher taxes and more spending, and which opposes scaling back public employee pay and benefits, the union’s financial support and candidate recommendations skew heavily toward Democrats who are more likely to share this agenda. The political action committee, MEA-PAC, has spent more than $2.5 million over the last two election cycles. It is regularly one of the state’s ten biggest-spending PACs and by far the most financially powerful public employee union in the state.
But that doesn’t mean that the MEA ignores all Republicans. A few get an outright recommendation from the union and a lot get its money.
In a recent newsletter, the MEA released the results of a poll indicating that a large percentage of its membership is politically “conservative” (see www.MichCapCon.com/13752). In 2008, the union gave its recommendation to 71 candidates who ultimately won seats in the Michigan House. Eleven of these were Republicans (see www.MichCapCon.com/10317) — more than 25 percent of the 43-member GOP caucus. (The Michigan Senate runs on four year terms and was not up for re-election in 2008).
But the inclination to recommend some Republicans seems to have abated considerably during this past election cycle. The MEA’s recommendation list for the Nov. 2nd general election included 67 candidates for the House and 24 for the Senate. Only three are Republicans:
- State House candidate Mike Callton of Nashville
- State House candidate Peter MacGregor of Rockford
- Incumbent state Sen. Roger Kahn of Saginaw
Callton, a Republican who has yet to cast a single vote, appears to have received as much financial attention from the union as even the most powerful of incumbent Democrat lawmakers.
A Michigan Capitol Confidential investigation of campaign committees operated by state Rep. George Cushingberry, D-Detroit, appear to indicate that he has received $5,000 total from the MEA during the current election cycle. Cushingberry chairs the House Appropriations Committee and is thus one of the very most powerful Democrats in the capitol when it comes to deciding how much will be spent on K-12 schools. Only six other lawmakers appear to have gotten more money from the union during the past election cycle.
Likewise, since the beginning of 2009, a campaign account for Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, D-Redford, received $4,000 from the MEA.
Yet by comparison, Callton’s campaign for the state House received $5,000 from the MEA-PAC. State records show that the campaign accounts of just six other candidates for the Legislature received more money from the MEA.
MEA donations to Sen. Roger Kahn have not lagged far behind. Kahn is the only incumbent GOP lawmaker in either chamber of the Legislature to run as an MEA-recommended candidate. His senate campaign account has taken in $2,500 from MEA-PAC since the start of 2009, and the union added another $1,850 to his leadership fund, for a total of $4,350. Records from the state’s Bureau of Elections indicate that only a dozen lawmakers received more support from the MEA during the past election funding cycle.
Kahn’s record on policy disputes where MEA concerns are at issue might explain why they would be inclined to open up their bank account to him:
- This spring, he was the only Senate Republican to vote against an early version of a bill that would have required school employees to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to their pension fund. If this draft had been signed into law, official estimates say this funding reform would have saved taxpayers $2.8 billion over ten years, with $211 million of that being saved in just the first year.
- Also this spring, he was one of two Republicans to vote against a bill that would make it easier for school districts to fire “ineffective teachers” (see MichCapCon.com/12308).
- During 2007’s budget battle, he was one of two GOP senators to vote against eliminating certain unusually generous pension benefits in the public school retirement system. He was also one of three GOP senators to vote against a bill that made it easier for other insurance companies to submit competitive bids for public school health insurance policy contracts. Full details at www.MichCapCon.com/9136.
An interesting omission from the MEA’s recommended candidate list is Republican Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek.
Less than two years ago, Nofs won a special election to the Michigan Senate with the MEA’s recommendation and $5,600 in funding from the union (see www.MichCapCon.com/11112). Like Kahn, Nofs was one of the few Republicans in 2007 to support the MEA’s position against eliminating unusually generous pension benefits and against enhanced competitive bidding for public school health insurance policies. Nofs was then a member of the House.
In an unusual twist, Nofs’ opponent for that Senate seat, Democrat state Rep. Martin Griffin of Jackson, had voted with the Republicans on the pension and health insurance bidding. Despite spending $4,000 to help Griffin in previous elections, the MEA-PAC switched its recommendation and its donations to Republican Nofs, the eventual winner.
But Nofs was now up for re-election to the Senate and the union declined to make a recommendation in the race. Furthermore, just $500 has been given to Nofs for his re-election bid. A potential reason for this may be that Nofs — unlike Kahn — did not buck his party during the vote this spring on the version of a bill that would have required school employees to kick in 3 percent for their pensions and thus save taxpayers $2.8 billion.
After Callston and Kahn, Sen. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, is the Republican with the next largest donation total from the MEA this election cycle. He received $1,800 to his Senate election fund and another $1,500 to his leadership fund, for a total of $3,300.
Richardville is a leading candidate to become the next Senate Majority Leader. No recent MEA donations could be located for his main rival, current state Rep. John Proos, R-St. Joseph.
On the House of Representatives side, the two candidates for Republican leader are Rep. Paul Opsommer of DeWitt and Rep. James Bolger of Marshall. Bolger has accepted $300 from the MEA since the start of 2009, while no records could be found of a recent donation from the union to the campaign funds controlled by Opsommer.
It is not always clear that MEA money flows to Republican politicians who are most likely to support its positions. Though the union’s recommended candidate list skews 111-3 in favor of Democrats, more than three dozen Republicans have received campaign checks from MEA-PAC since the start of 2009.
Some don’t appear to have ever been accommodating of the MEA agenda.
For example, Rep. Chuck Moss, R-Birmingham, received $300 from the MEA on March 4, 2009. He is one of two GOP to sit on the School Aid & Education Appropriations subcommittee in the Michigan House. Yet he has frequently asserted policy positions diametrically opposed to the union’s agenda. He publicly challenged the cost (see www.MichCapCon.com/12717) of school employee pay and benefits and criticized the House majority (see www.MichCapCon.com/9913) for increasing K-12 spending beyond the available revenue.
A listing of Republican state lawmakers and legislative candidates who have accepted more than $1,000 from the MEA since 2009 is noted below. This listing includes both the main campaign accounts of the politician and any leadership accounts (where applicable).
Republicans receiving more than $1000 in MEA-PAC donations since start of 2009:
Mike Callton - GOP candidate for House: $5,000
Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw: $4,350
Sen. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe: $3,300
Rep. Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc: $3,000
Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland: $2,500
(Kuipers is the chair of the Senate Education committee)
Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, R-Bellaire: $2,050
(Elsenheimer is the current GOP Minority Leader in the Michigan House)
Sen. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester: $2,000
(Bishop is the current Senate Majority Leader)
Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy: $1,550
Former Rep. Tim Moore, R-Farwell: $1,500
(Resigned from Legislature to become elementary school principal)
Rep. Kevin Green, R-Wyoming: $1,240
Rep. Geoff Hansen, R-Hart: $1,200
Rep. Jim Marleau, R-Lake Orion: $1,100
(Marleau is now a candidate for the Michigan Senate)
Rep. Gail Haines, R-Waterford: $1,050
Rep. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair: $1,050
Rep. Jim Stamas, R-Midland: $1,025
Rep. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth: $1,000
Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek: $500 for current election cycle and $5,600 for special election to Senate in early 2009.
The original version of this story was posted online on Oct. 20, 2010.