Michigan Truth Squad Issues ‘Flagrant Foul’ on Lastest DIBC Ad

Michigan Truth Squad

Who: Detroit International Bridge Company
Featured Campaign Material: TV ad
Truth Squad Call: Flagrant foul

Questionable statements:

“Time and again, leaders in Lansing have stood up and said ‘no’ to Rick Snyder’s wasteful Bridge to Canada.”

This ad is the third spot this year from the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC), which owns the private Ambassador Bridge. The company opposes a public-private bridge proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder, as it would be competition.

Since Snyder took office, no votes have been taken on any proposal for a new Detroit-Canada bridge.

Proposals for a new public-private bridge have been out there for years — long before Snyder even ran for governor or supported a second span. There was a vote last year on a bridge proposal known as the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC), and the state House voted in favor of it.

“They know we don’t need it and can’t afford it. But now Snyder’s pressuring senators to break their word. Change their votes. And stick taxpayers with a bill from 100 million dollars a year.”

The ad offers no evidence for a serious allegation that Snyder is twisting arms to get votes and break promises. He told WILX this week he’s been meeting with lawmakers on the bridge: “I’m talking to some legislators to make sure I can understand their issues and respond to any questions they have.” But no lawmaker has come forth — even those opposed to the bridge — and said s/he is being pressured. Snyder has called on citizens to call their senators and ask them to support the bridge — which is quite different and not nefarious.

As for spending Michigan taxpayer dollars, no independent analyst has made that claim, although several consultants for the DIBC have. The Canadian government has offered to pay Michigan’s share of the project, $550 million, a sum to be paid back in tolls. Snyder struck a deal with the Federal Highway Administration to use that $550 million toward federal highway matching funds that are required for other road and bridge projects.

Richard McLellan, former legal adviser to John Engler, testified Oct. 11 to the Senate Economic Development Committee that the Michigan Constitution protects taxpayers from being on the hook, according to the (subscription-only) MIRS Newsletter. The Michigan Attorney General Division Chief David Brickey on Oct. 12 testified that the legislation shields taxpayers.

“He’s offering special projects, giveaways and community benefits. Your legislators need to hear from you. Call today and tell them to stand strong and tell Governor Snyder we still can’t afford his bridge.”

Once again, the ad alleges Snyder is engaging in questionable behavior to get the bridge through the Legislature without offering any proof. “Special projects” could mean road projects that could be built all over the state if Michigan uses the $550 million toward federal matching funds. But there’s nothing “special” or untoward about that — they’re on the Department of Transportation’s five-year plan.

Community benefits are often worked out for large-scale projects that cause people to relocate their homes or businesses. They could set the level of reimbursement for homeowners in Detroit’s Delray neighborhood who would be dislocated by the project and mandate hiring or job training for them. They have not been part of legislation that has gotten a hearing so far.

In the context of the ad’s claim that Snyder is offering lawmakers sweet deals, it’s worth noting the campaign contribution generosity of the DIBC; its owner, Matty Moroun; and his family. The nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network reports that the Moroun family donated $550,000 to lawmakers in the 2010 cycle.

The family and top executives have given politicians $1.8 million in the last 13 years, according to the Detroit Free Press. Moroun sponsored a breakfast this year for the Bipartisan Freshman Caucus. For this year, the Moroun family has given $85,000 to caucus and lawmaker leadership funds.

Overall impression:

This is the third ad the DIBC has launched against the public-private bridge. As of last month — before this ad started airing — the DIBC had spent $4.7 million this year in lobbying ads against the new bridge, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

This spot alleges that Gov. Rick Snyder is dealing dirty to get the bridge through the Legislature without offering a shred of evidence. The ad also brings up the argument that taxpayers will be stuck with the tab for the bridge, although no expert outside those on the DIBC’s payroll have said that they will be, thanks to the legislation and Michigan’s constitution.

Foul or no foul:

Flagrant Foul. This is the third ad from DIBC to blatantly stretch the truth on the bridge, two of which have personally attacked Snyder. This ad strongly implies that Snyder is buying lawmakers off. That’s more than a little ironic, given the DIBC’s documented financial generosity to legislators.

Download the entire transcript here.