News Story

GOP Lawmaker Recall: 95 Percent of Reported Spending Thus Far Goes to Lansing-Area Consultants

Nearly all the money the committee to recall House Education Committee Chair Paul Scott (R-Grand Blanc) has reported expending so far was spent in the East Lansing area — not in Scott's district.

The recall committee, known as Citizens Against Government Overreach (CAGO), billed itself as a grassroots effort within Scott's 51st House District. However, according to a campaign report filed this week, CAGO spent less than 1 percent of its expenditures in the 51st.

Of the $13,504 CAGO has reported spending so far, it paid out just $104.46 in Scott's district. This $104.46 was spent at a Grand Blanc Staples store.

CAGO turned in its first campaign finance report to the State Bureau of Elections this week nearly two months after it was due. State officials allowed the late filing after determining that the wording of the regulations involved hadn't been clearly written. According to the report, CAGO was funded entirely through a $25,000 donation from the Michigan Education Association (MEA), with the exception of one $100 donation, apparently from an individual.

The MEA's $25,000 donation to CAGO was reported on its financial report in late July. It had been well-publicized even before the signatures were turned in. However, until this week it was not clear that the MEA donation comprised virtually all of the campaign contributions CAGO had received.

As suspected, the bulk of CAGO's spending went to East Lansing-based Practical Political Consulting (PPC). PPC President Mark Grebner is the state's leading political list compiler and a highly regarded legislative recall campaign expert.

According to the campaign report, Grebner's company received $10,000 for its role in the recall campaign. However, the company could have received additional dollars that would show up on a future expenditure filing.

Grebner told Capitol Confidential this week that he never actually went to Scott's district in connection with the recall effort.

“I never even went over to Flint,” Grebner said. “I stayed in my office in East Lansing and took some phone calls and stratigized. As I've said previously, I have some very good people working for me.”

In addition, Grebner said his personal interactions involving the recall effort were with the MEA, not CAGO.

CAGO turned in 12,133 signatures (previous news accounts rounded it up to 12,200), 2,187 more than the 9,446 required. It's now clear that enough of the signatures were valid to put Scott's name on the Nov. 8 ballot for a recall election. In a preliminary review of the signatures, Election Bureau officials found only 1,086 signatures they ruled to be invalid. Perhaps more significantly, recall opponents have stopped their review of the signatures.

It's widely believed that one of Grebner's responsibilities in the petition drive was to “scrub” the signatures before they were handed over to the state. This means making sure most of the questionable signatures were removed ahead of time.

Scott has filed an appeal, based on the premise that the petition drive started collecting signatures before all issues of clarity had been addressed. That appeal was moved up to the Michigan Supreme Court on Thursday, but those in the Scott camp are proceeding on the assumption that there will be a recall election.

The financial statement CAGO turned in this week might have only covered its activities prior to the signature collection period. In spite of the fact that the petition drive ended three weeks ago, CAGO's contributions and expenditures that took place after the mid-summer filing period aren't required to be on the statement filed this week. The filing that would cover the period when the recall petition drive was actually taking place isn't due until Oct. 25 — just two weeks before the election.

It's been widely reported that petition circulators for the recall effort were paid from $3 to $4 per signature. What's more, Grebner has said that a recall campaign such as the one in the 51st House District could only succeed with paid circulators. If the circulators were paid a per-signature rate, the CAGO report filed this week would not include those costs. If Grebner's company received any additional payments for its work on the recall effort; that would also be reflected in a future financial report, not in the one turned in this week.

Capitol Confidential asked Bureau of Elections Spokesman Fred Woodhams if expenditures paid for signature gathering would show up on CAGO's next financial report.

“Its possible,” Woodhams said. “Those expenditures might not have been made during the reporting period. It's also possible that some other committee was involved with the recall effort.”

Leon Drolet, director of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance and a veteran of many petition drives, said that at this time it could be difficult to get information about the money that was paid out for the signatures but those payments should eventually become public.

“At this point, we don't even know what arrangements were made for paying them,” Drolet said. “They may not have even been paid yet. A few years ago, Clean Water Action (a so-called environmental group) tried to claim their circulators were just dispensing information. They argued that their circulators' jobs were to tell people about clean water but then, as private citizens, they'd just happen to have a petition on hand to be signed.”

“I think asking about the expenditures for the signatures is a good question,” Drolet added. “That is something to watch for. There are a lot of ways of doing these things. But even if some other group paid for the signatures, it should eventually show up somewhere as an in-kind contribution.”

After Grebner, CAGO's next highest payout, according to its expenditure report, went to Vaughn Thompson, who received $2,904.46. Thompson is listed on the report as being from Haslett, which is located near East Lansing. News media accounts have described Thompson as a consultant. However, as recently as 2010, Thompson was the political director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

According to CAGO's filing, the recall committee still had $11,596 on hand at the end of the period covered in its statement.

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.