News Story

Analysis: Phony 'Sandbox Party' Uses Taxpayer Dollars to Lobby for More Goverment Spending

(Genuine) Tea Party supporters are already fuming about the dirty trick of a (fake) "The Tea Party" political party created with the assistance of Democratic Party operatives; another abuse of democracy may add to their ire: Last week a government entity that received $14.6 million ( of taxpayer money in the current state budget organized an elaborate publicity stunt to lobby for more government spending, called the "First Ever Sandbox Party Convention" in East Lansing.

The culprit is the "Early Child Investment Corporation" (ECIC), a government entity created in 2005 explicitly to expand the size, scope, reach, budgets and spending of government welfare, preschool, social work and related programs. This was accomplished through the device of an "interlocal agreement" between the Department of Human Services (the state welfare department) and Intermediate School Districts, which are among the recipients of any additional taxpayer loot the entity extracts. ECIC is essentially an adjunct of the DHS and appears on its organization chart.

The "interlocal agreement" gimmick may sound familiar to those who have followed the Mackinac Center's home child care worker "stealth unionization" lawsuit, which was perpetrated by another such contract between DHS and Mott Community College.

Here's how the press release prepared by a Lansing PR firm hired by ECIC described this week's event:

Thirty-five hundred people from across Michigan - parents, grandparents, children, policy makers, elected officials and others - hooted, hollered and made their voices heard at ... the first-ever Sandbox Party Convention today.
The candidates for Michigan governor - Republican Rick Snyder and Democrat Virg Bernero - each got a rousing reception from the crowd, which included scores of families, some from as far away as Delta County in the Upper Peninsula. Four busloads of kids and families came from Lenawee County."

It's likely that taxpayers picked up the tab for those buses as well.

The event was promoted solely for political action - ECIC officials even boasted about timing it during the week before the two major state political party conventions. Here's how ECIC's own press release described your tax dollars being spent in East Lansing last week:

Entertainment and performances from spunky Capital Cheer cheerleaders, Zeke the Wonder dog and lively contests and music hosted by Radio Disney personalities kept spirits charged. Wandering the vendor areas and convention floor were costume-clad celebrities Curious George, Corduroy the bear and Clifford the Big Red Dog. Vendor mascots worked the crowd, too, including one odd-shaped character - Delta Dental's "Marshall Molar," who wore an oversized cowboy hat, badge and was armed with a toothbrush for a sidearm.

The Republican gubernatorial candidate was quoted in the release commenting on the sound made by a type of noisemaker distributed to children bused in for the event: "The (thunder) sticks are popular. We could use those on the campaign trail."

The use of tax dollars to fund lobbying and promotional campaigns intended to generate more government spending is a widespread and possibly growing phenomenon in Michigan's state and local governments.


Addendum: After this information was published on the Mackinac Center blog and posted on Facebook, Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, offered the following comment there:

I once had one of these "early childhood education" lobbyists try working me over in the Capital lobby one day last year and I looked at her and asked point blank - "You think it's okay to come and rip all 4 year olds out of the hands of parents and force them to go into your education programs, whether or not the parents want it for their child or think the child is ready or needs it?" She gave me a one word answer, "yes."

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.