Ambassador Bridge owners paid millions for signatures to put their monopoly protecting proposal on the ballot

Michigan signatures worth a lot – up to 5 bucks a name

By Dawson Bell
Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau

LANSING – It has been a good year to carry a clipboard in Michigan.

With the Monday deadline to submit petitions to halt tax hikes and bridge building, state elections officials are now surrounded by boxes of petitions aimed at enacting six separate constitutional amendments, signed by an estimated 3.5 million Michigan voters.

Most of those signatures were collected by people who get paid to get them. Campaign experts said the going rate for the signature of a registered voter in Michigan ranges from $2 to $5.

Mark Grebner, an East Lansing-based consultant who has worked as a subcontractor to petition management firms, said a skilled signature collector can make $25 an hour.

None of the campaigns was ready Monday to disclose how much they paid for signature gathering. They will have to file reports detailing their fund-raising and spending later this year. Still, all are quick to say the tireless work of dedicated volunteers was crucial to their efforts.

Mickey Blashfield, a lobbyist for the family of Manuel (Matty) Moroun, owners of the Ambassador Bridge, said Monday that the proposal to block the deal between Michigan’s governor and Canada’s prime minister to build a bridge over the Detroit River was “truly a grassroots effort” backed by churches, civic and taxpayer organizations.

Still, the bridge company almost certainly paid several million dollars to professionals to get signatures.

State elections officials said it has become almost unheard of to collect a half-million signatures (providing a cushion over the 322,000 threshold needed to qualify for the ballot) without professional help.

Representatives of the half dozen national firms that manage petition drives generally don’t speak to reporters. None returned phone calls Monday. But their names will be in the campaign finance reports – next to very large dollar figures.