Moroun ads target presidential hopefuls; poll shows support for public bridge

Paul Egan / Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are airing TV ads in Iowa urging voters there to tell presidential candidates they don’t support a new public bridge across the Detroit River.

Two Iowa residents with connections to Michigan emailed The Detroit News in the past 24 hours after seeing the ads, which describe the proposed public span as “another bridge to nowhere.” A TV station official in Iowa confirmed Monday it has been airing ads paid for by the Detroit International Bridge Co.

“I was certainly surprised,” said Bradon Smith, a former Michigan resident studying law at the University of Iowa.

In Michigan, the Ambassador’s owners have spent $4.7 million this year on TV ads opposing the bridge, according to a report released Monday by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

There is no current estimate of how much the bridge owners have spent outside of Michigan.

Alan Upchurch, a bridge company spokesman, said Monday he was not aware of the TV ads in Iowa, but “it wouldn’t surprise me.”

“They’ve aired some other national ads before in other states,” Upchurch said.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a nonpartisan group that studies money in politics, compiled the Michigan 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 Michigan 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.

Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, 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.

Democrats have generally supported the public bridge, but Republicans have generally opposed it.

Speaking to reporters Monday after a jobs-related news conference in Detroit, Snyder described the bridge ads as “inaccurate” and “misleading.”

The bridge 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.

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 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.

Also Monday, a business group released responses to a recent survey showing support for the public bridge.

Told Michigan will not use any taxpayer dollars to help pay for the bridge, 61.5 percent of respondents voiced support for the public bridge in a recent survey, Business Leaders for Michigan said in a news release. Just under 33 percent were opposed.

“When the public understands that the project is being funded by Canada, the federal government and customer tolls, not Michigan dollars, they support the effort,” Business Leaders for Michigan President and CEO Doug Rothwell said.

The telephone survey of 600 likely voters, conducted by the Glengariff Group, has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Asked about their political affiliation, 29.5 percent of respondents said they were Democrats; 26.5 percent Republicans, and 42 percent independent.