News Story

Wayne State Shuts Down Website to Investigate Campaign Finance Concerns Raised by FOIA Debate

Wayne State University shut down the website for its Labor Studies Center shortly after Michigan Capitol Confidential managing editor Ken Braun cited specific pages and documents found on the Labor Studies Center’s website and publicly questioned whether it was acting like a political action committee for unions.

The site is located at:

It contained numerous documents that Braun had linked to that he said appeared to show favoritism to union causes and even political campaigns. As of Wednesday, a notice on the site declared that it was under construction. Nearly all of the pages that Braun had referenced had been removed.

Braun submitted a Freedom of Information Act request on March 25 to the labor studies centers at three Michigan universities and touched off a national debate. He explained on Monday why Michigan Capitol Confidential put in the request. The FOIA request for emails from professors at the three labor studies centers included references to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the general collective bargaining dispute in that state, and MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow. It has been national news for a week.

A phone caller to the Mackinac Center referenced the debate when issuing death and bomb threats last week.

Braun’s Michigan Capitol Confidential essay cited several instances to back up the claim that Wayne State University’s Labor Studies Center was behaving as a political action front for unions.

Marick Masters, director of the Douglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues and Labor@Wayne, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment regarding why Wayne State had shut down the website.

Michigan Information & Research Service reporter Kyle Melinn stated in an email that Wayne State University informed him that they took down the labor center’s website so attorneys could decide if it was in violation of the Michigan Campaign Finance act.

Braun said it is “way past time” for an investigation.

“It has taken more than a year of us and others asking if they were doing something wrong for them to start asking that question of themselves,” Braun stated in an email. “What the taxpayers deserve now is an outside authority with subpoena power asking questions and demanding answers regarding what this department has been doing all along.”

Braun suggested the Legislature, Attorney General and Secretary of State as three possibilities.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce filed a complaint against Wayne State in 2005 claiming the labor center had violated the campaign finance law by promoting a petition drive for an initiative for raising Michigan’s minimum wage, according to Bob LaBrant, general counsel for the chamber.

LaBrant said the matter was resolved when Wayne State took down the material in question. LaBrant said that after the material was taken down, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land concluded that the matter was resolved.

“I hope we don’t get into a pattern of letting them apologize and walk away every time they admit to flirting with the law on their website,” said Braun, comparing the two incidents. “The website itself isn’t the Labor Studies Center. That’s just a place where they give us some clues about how they use our money. We should be taking what they have been saying more seriously and start looking behind the curtain.”

The removed examples of the alleged political favoritism include:

  • The department’s official activities include helping “local leaders develop local strategies for building power.” The website notes that if these labor unions can continue “building coalitions” and “mobilizing aggressive political action,” they will be “laying the groundwork for helping to lead the future of their regions.”
  • The department has “produced a comprehensive guide for activists for organizing” support for living wage campaigns.
  • The academic research department advocates against privatization plans implemented in public schools and elsewhere and advises on how to defeat the opposition in the ensuing political battles.
  • The department has created a guide against implementing privatization plans.
  • A handy list of ways for labor unions and advocate groups to dig up dirt and embarrassing evidence against their employers.

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.