Roger Penske, one of metro Detroit’s most powerful businessmen, has seen to it that $1 million was donated to Mike Duggan’s mayoral campaign this summer and fall.
That $1 million does not show up on the traditional campaign finance statements that Duggan files, yet Penske, left, has done absolutely nothing wrong.
Penske and his company made the donations to the so-called SuperPAC – the Super Political Action Committee – that basically exists to raise money for Duggan, though the committee is ostensibly independent.
The SuperPACs in the Detroit mayoral race are the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling in 2010 that allows unlimited contributions from business owners, unions and other groups.
This is the first mayoral campaign in Detroit in which SuperPACs have played a role, and their influence on the race has been enormous, raising questions about future elections being financed by corporate interests and leaving little room for even modest business people, much less ordinary citizens, to play a significant financing role.
Thanks to the SuperPACs, Duggan has received hundreds of thousands of dollars beyond what he would have been able to raise in traditional campaign contributions, which are limited in Michigan to $3,400 from individuals and $34,000 from organizations.
Duggan’s SuperPAC is called Turnaround Detroit. In the most recent reporting period, it raised nearly nine times as much as the SuperPAC associated with Napoleon, Detroit Forward.
According to reports filed this past week, Duggan’s Turnaround Detroit SuperPAC raised more than $1.4 million.
Napoleon’s Detroit Forward SuperPac raised $161,000.*
Those SuperPac reports were filed about the same time as the candidates filed their traditional campaign finance statements, which similarly showed a lopsided advantage for Duggan, who reported raising $824,000 to Napoleon’s $175,000.
In the SuperPAC race, Duggan so overwhelmed Napoleon that, after expenses, his SuperPAC had $181,570 left over. That’s more than $20,000 above what Napoleon’s SuperPAC took in.
During the last reporting period, Duggan also raised about $1.4 million, meaning his SuperPAC has collected more than $2.8 million for his campaign, which, among other things, has financed Duggan's frequent television ads, especially during the primary campaign when he had to instruct voters to write his name on the their ballots.
It’s not unusual for members of Detroit’s corporate elite to settle on one candidate. In past elections they got behind Dennis Archer, but also Kwame Kilpatrick and Dave Bing, suggesting their political savvy occasionally falls short of their business acumen.
That relationship between politicians and their backers illustrates a fact of life in Detroit for more than a generation: Whites have the economic power and blacks hold political offices, an equation that will need tweaking if Duggan, who is white, becomes mayor.
Duggan is a rare mayoral candidate who has served as a manager and CEO, so it is not surprising the corporate class decided to back one of its own.
And once Duggan achieved his startling victory as a write-in candidate over Napoleon in the primary and continued to lead in the polls, it virtually guaranteed the money would continue to flow in his direction, as people involved in – or wanting influence in – city government decide to back a probable winner.
Napoleon, the Wayne County sheriff and former Detroit police chief, finished second to Duggan by more than 20,000 votes in the primary. He has had little traction raising money, and even had to loan his own campaign $17,500 during the most recent reporting period, according to Darren A. Nichols’ article Saturday in the Detroit News
Ford and Taubman family members get involved
In the SuperPAC race during the current reporting period, Duggan received $250,000 from the Penske Corporation and $250,000 from Roger Penske, matching the contributions Penske and his company donated in the previous reporting period, for a total of $1 million.
Peter Karmanos, the retired founder and chairman of Compuware Corporation, contributed $100,000; he gave $200,000 during the last reporting period.
Vanguard Health System, which owns the Detroit Medical Center that Duggan headed before running for mayor, contributed $1000,000 – for a total of $200,000 in both reporting periods.
Detroit-based PVS Chemicals, donated $50,000, for a total of $150,000. (It also contributed $15,000 to Napoleon’s SuperPAC.)
Other major contributors to Duggan in this reporting period include the Detroit Regional Chamber ($100,000); Robert Thompson of Plymouth ($96,000); DTE Energy ($75,000); and Richard Manoogian ($50,000).
Three members of the Ford family gave Duggan a total of $40,000. Three members of the Taubman family contributed a total of $50,000.
Dan Gilbert's Quicken Loans donated $80,000 to Duggan in the first reporting period, but Duggan had to return it because people with stakes in casinos are forbidden from making contributing contributions.
Napoleon’s biggest contributor was the Michigan Community Education Fund, which gave $64,000.
A new era dawns
The era of SuperPACS in Detroit is just dawning; there is no indication that it will go away. The U.S. Supreme Court spoke forcefully in 2010 that many types of donations to political campaigns are protected by the First Amendment's free speech guarantees.
As recently as Thursday, a federal appeals court struck down a law in New York state that limited contributions to independent political committees, and SuperPACs suddenly can get involved in the waning days of New York City's mayoral campaign. Similar laws in other states have been overturned.
Wealthy people in metro Detroit have always had much more influence on political candidates than regular citizens, like they do everywhere. And many of the rich people and their organizations that gave to Mike Duggan stand out for being public spirited, giving generously to a variety of causes that make life better in the city and region -- even buying much-needed police cars and ambulances.
What they are doing in giving to Duggan is perfectly legal. They don't do it secretly; you can read the reports. But when a handful of wealthy non-residents can have such an oversized effect on the important task of picking Detroit’s political leaders, it tends to bolster the sense that the city is being managed in significant ways by foundations and corporations and the businessman who occupies the governor's office. Such an arrangement can't help but raise questions about democracy, and before long, it begins to smell...like plutocracy.
* NOTE ON FINDING REPORTS: Duggan's most recent SuperPAC report can be seen by clicking on the above link, or here, to access records at the Michigan Secretary of State's website. Duggan's report for the earlier reporting period, and both of Napoleon's reports, can be accessed by clicking here, which will lead to the Wayne County Clerk's website. Click "continue," and on the next page enter the names Turnaround Detroit (Duggan) or Detroit Forward (Napoleon) in the box titled "Committee Name."