Ambassador Bridge owners spend $4.7M on ad campaign against public bridge

Paul Egan / Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The owners of the Ambassador Bridge have spent $4.7 million in Michigan this year on TV ads opposing a new public bridge across the Detroit River, according to a report released Monday by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

The nonpartisan group that studies money in politics compiled the figures from the public files of the state’s television broadcasters and cable systems, executive director Rich Robinson said in a news release.

Robinson said the Detroit International Bridge Co.’s ad buys totaled $4.1 million from March 7 through June 21. After a summer hiatus, the bridge owners spent another $618,000 between Sept. 5 and 19.

The company is not registered with the Secretary of State as a lobbyist, highlighting “a major deficiency in the state’s lobbying disclosure system,” Robinson said. A related company headed by Manuel “Matty” Moroun, Central Transport International Inc., is listed as a client of the Lansing lobbying firm Karoub Associates, Inc., but has not filed a disclosure statement of its own, Robinson said.

Gov. Rick Snyder is urging the Legislature to approve legislation to create a public authority to take bids on a new bridge across the Detroit River that Snyder says will be publicly owned but privately financed, built and managed.

Canada has offered to front up to $550 million to cover Michigan’s share of the estimated total project cost of $3.6 billion, with the money to be recovered from Michigan’s share of bridge tolls. The bills now before a Senate committee say Michigan taxpayers won’t be on the hook for any of the cost, but the TV ads say the bridge will cost state taxpayers $100 million.

Matthew Moroun, the son of Manuel Moroun and the vice chairman of the bridge company, said in an interview last week the media has done a good job of reporting on expenditures by his company but there has been a lack of spending transparency involving spending by the public bridge advocates.

The Morouns have a plan to build a second private span beside their existing one and complain a public bridge two miles to the south would unfairly cut into their business.