DIBC Spends $5M To Stop New Bridge

MIRS News

How much does it cost to stop a bridge from being built? About $5 million this year so far.

According to data compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN), the Detroit International Bridge Company’s (DIBC) is spending nearly that much on a grassroots-lobbying television advertising campaign that opposes the proposed New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

The DIBC spent $4.7 million. The gross sales figure comes from data the MCFN collected from the public files of the state’s television broadcasters and cable systems. This does not include money spent creating the ads or on consultants like Dick MORRIS.

DIBC’s statewide ad buys between March 7 and June 21 totaled $4.1 million. After a summer hiatus, the campaign resumed on September 5 and has spent $618,000 more through September 19.

“Despite the fact that the ads are clearly grassroots lobbying, exhorting citizens to contact their legislators and Governor Snyder to oppose the bridge, Detroit International Bridge Company is not even registered as a lobbyist with the Department of State,” MCFN Executive Director Rich ROBINSON writes.

DIBC is even spending money on TV advertising in Iowa urging presidential candidates not to back another “Bridge To Nowhere,” the Detroit News reported today.

DIBC lobbyist Mickey BLASHFIELD told MIRS the $4.7 million figure was a “guestimate” and he didn’t know what the actual amount was. When MIRS asked if it was inaccurate, he said yes. MIRS asked if the actual figure was less than that.

“I just indicated that I didn’t know what the amount was,” Blashfield said.

Blashfield said they were issue advocacy ads and the company’s legal counsel has advised that they do not need to be disclosed as lobbying expenses.

He said the pro-NITC side has spent money on lobbying — the Canadian government, Detroit Chamber of Commerce and the Coalition for the NITC. None of those groups made the MCFN’s list of top 200 lobbying groups this year.

MIRS asked the coalition spokesman for the NITC if the group had spent any money on TV. He said no and there were no plans in the future.

“We’ve spent money on T-shirts and buttons,” Shields said. “We have some T-shirts left.”

Shields called $5 million an “unprecedented” amount on lobbying in his 30 years in Lansing, adding that it’s “almost an obscene level.

“Dick Morris is a true snake-oil salesman getting them to spend on national ads and now in Iowa,” he said.

Sen. Mike KOWALL (R-White Lake) chairs the Economic Development Committee holding hearings on the new bridge. He didn’t return a call for comment on the MCFN report.

Central Transport International, Inc., another corporate holding of DIBC’s owner, Matty MOROUN, is listed as a client of Karoub Associates in the state’s lobbying disclosure database, but MCFN reports that it has never filed a lobbyist’s financial reporting statement. Karoub reported no advertising activity in the first seven months of 2011.

“This is a clear example of a major deficiency in the state’s lobbying disclosure system,” said Robinson. “Detroit International Bridge Company should have registered as a lobbyist and reported its $4 million grassroots lobbying campaign. Instead, it reported nothing. It appears that we’re living with an honor system in an environment where there isn’t much honor.”

MCFN reported last week that this year’s biggest-spending lobbying group, StudentsFirst, shelled out $951,000, including $900,000 for its grassroots-lobbying ads advocating legislation to overhaul state teacher tenure rules (See “StudentsFirst Spends $1M On Lobbying,” 9/15/11). StudentsFirst was founded by controversial former Washington, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle RHEE.

Only 35 other state lobbyists reported any mailing or advertising expenses, and their spending for those purposes totaled less than $35,000.

Members of the Moroun family have made numerous direct contributions to Michigan political committees as an alternative form of investment in their policy interests, the MCFN notes.

In the 2010 election cycle, Matty Moroun and his wife, Nora MOROUN, son Matthew MOROUN and daughter-in-law Linsay MOROUN gave various state political action committees (PACs), leadership PACs and candidate committees more than $550,000.

So far in 2011, records show Moroun family contributions of $55,500 to the House Republican Campaign Committee ($20,000), the House Democratic Fund ($10,000), the Senate Republican Campaign Committee ($10,000), the Senate Democratic Fund ($10,000) and the leadership PACs of House Speaker Jase BOLGER (R-Marshall) ($5,000) and Rep. Woodrow STANLEY (D-Flint) ($500).

Any contributions the Morouns have made, or will make, to candidate committees in 2011 will not be disclosed until February 2012, due to the state’s campaign finance reporting requirements.

Poll: 62% Back Bridge If No Taxpayer $ Used

A new poll by a group backing the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) shows 62 percent back the project if there’s no taxpayer money used. And 33 percent opposed.

The survey was done by Business Leaders for Michigan (BLM). There was strong support from 41 percent and somewhat support from 29 percent. Eight percent strongly oppose and 25 percent strongly opposed.

“It’s clearly a case of making sure people are well-informed about this issue,” said BLM President Doug ROTHWELL.

The telephone survey of 600 residents likely to vote this November was conducted by the Chicago-based Glengariff Group Inc. The margin of error was 4 percent. The poll included 27 percent Republicans, 30 percent Democrats and 42 percent independents.