Who has been winning in the battle to recall House Education Committee Chair Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc? According to campaign finance records, Democratic operatives from outside of Rep. Scott's district have been cleaning up.
Those cashing in include the current regional field director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Records show that Kyle Buda, campaign manager for Citizens Against Government Overreach (CAGO), has received $5,987.50 from the campaign through the end of the latest reporting period.
According to his LinkedIn page, Buda became regional field manager for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin this month. Prior to that he was deputy regional field manager for a group called Advancing Wisconsin.
The Michigan Education Association bankrolled and coordinated the campaign to recall Rep. Scott. It was the only recall effort in the state to successfully turn in enough valid signatures to force an election this year. This week the Michigan Supreme Court made a final ruling that the election will take place in the 51st House District on Nov. 8.
Overall, the campaign to recall Rep. Scott has spent $110,876.90. Of this, $97,817.23 went to people or entities outside the district. Of that amount, political advisors and operatives have received the lion's share, accepting $81,855.45 for their services.
These statistics are from data filed this week by CAGO, which is the political committee trying to unseat Rep. Scott. The filing was done on Tuesday, the deadline for turning in pre-election campaign finance reports.
“This really isn't surprising when you consider that almost all of the funding for the recall came from the MEA,” said Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall. “Those behind the recall try to claim it was a grass-roots effort. But when you trace the roots, you quickly find out where they really lead.”
The last time a sitting legislator was recalled was in 1983, when two Democratic Michigan Senators, Phil Mastin and David Serotkin, were recalled over their support of former Gov. Jim Blanchard's 38 percent income tax hike. The recalls gave the Republicans a majority in the state Senate, which they have held ever since.
Did those 1983 recalls feature big money coming in from outside the districts? Inside Michigan Politics Editor Bill Ballenger said a lot of things have changed since 1983, but the role of money in politics isn't one of them.
“A lot of money did come into those districts in 1983 to help those recalls,” Ballenger said. “Marketing Resource Group in Lansing received quite a lot. But I don't remember it being obvious where or who the funding came from.
“John Engler, who was Senate Republican Leader at the time, and Spencer Abraham, who was the head of the state GOP, claimed they weren't involved,” Ballenger continued. “No one ever found their fingerprints on the recalls. But, yes, there was big money involved.”
Does anyone care whether a recall effort is actually a grass-roots movement or not?
“I think, in general, people don't like the idea that a big statewide group like MEA is behind something like that. It's the sort of thing that makes people feel pretty cynical about all of it,” Ballenger said. “I think that's especially true when you have these political firms and professional organizers coming in from outside. But it's kind of like negative political ads. Everyone says they don't like them, but people keep using them because they work.”
Ballenger added that it remains to be seen whether or not the pro-recall side outspends those defending Rep. Scott. But that question probably won't be answered until future campaign filing deadlines arrive.
East Lansing-based Practical Political Consulting has received $52,739.13, nearly half of the money the recall campaign has spent. Next in line was Lansing-based political consulting firm Main Street Strategies, which received $10,308.36, not counting the $2,291 that was paid to political consultant Joe DiSano of Main Street Strategies.
Former SEIU political director Vaughn Thompson of Haslett (near East Lansing) was paid $6,479.46 from recall campaign coffers and Buda got $5,987.50. Buda is a Michigan native who lists his Bay City address whether working in Wisconsin, Illinois or Connecticut.
The finance records show that Shawn Dhanak, of Lansing, who is with the left-of-center political action group Progress Michigan, received $4,050 from the recall campaign. In an interesting side note, Marcie Hengesberg, who lives outside the district, received $182. Hengesberg did at least one blog posting about the recall effort under the “Progress Michigan” banner.
The campaign finance data shows that the recall campaign spent $13,059.67 in the district, Of this amount, UAW Local 1292 of Grand Blanc got the largest share with $4,803.45.
Records show that the recall campaign spent a lot of its food dollars out-of-district at Gordon's Food Service in Wixom, which is in Oakland County. Gordon's Food Service received a total of $795.90 in six payments. Overall, however, according to the records, the recall campaign spent a bit more on food from within the district than it did outside the district, mostly at pizza places and a Meijer store.
On the contribution side of the ledger, the MEA Political Action Committee gave $140,000 to CAGO. This amount dwarfed all other funding. There were 88 individual contributions, mostly local, adding up to about $15,000. These ranged from $20 to $250. Some of the local contributors chipped in more than once.
Of the individual contributions, $720 came from MEA officials. MEA President Steven Cook was the highest individual MEA contributor, tossing in $270. Mark Barron, manager of Barron Precision Instruments, contributed $500. An East Lansing-based group called “Michigan Now” contributed $150.
CAGO leader Gary Carnahan and MEA spokesman Doug Pratt were offered the chance to comment in this article, but did not respond to phone calls.