Morouns are big political donors as they fight public bridge
By Paul Egan
Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau
LANSING — There were no major elections in 2011, but the Moroun family didn’t take its foot off the political giving gas as it fought plans for a public bridge across the Detroit River, campaign finance reports show.
The Morouns gave at least $242,400 to state-related political funds in 2011, including $100,000 to the Michigan Republican Party and $20,000 to help developer Bobby Schostak’s successful bid for the state GOP chairmanship, records show.
Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, opposes a plan backed by Gov. Rick Snyder to build a publicly owned span about 2 miles downstream. Moroun and his wife, Nora, along with his son, Matthew, and his wife, Lindsay, made the donations.
The Michigan Republican Party has remained neutral on the public bridge despite strong support for the project from Snyder, most business groups, and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
There is no link between the party’s neutral stance and the money Moroun gave, state GOP spokesman Matt Frendewey said Tuesday.
“We have members on both sides of this debate within our party,” Frendewey said Tuesday.
The more than $240,000 that went to funds connected to state campaigns is still a partial number because about 10 state lawmakers hadn’t filed annual reports on time, and money given to political action committees late in the year isn’t required to be reported until April. The state money is in addition to more than $368,000 the Morouns gave to federal campaign committees last year.
Both amounts are significant in a non-election year, said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
“I think it’s clearly meant to drive policy, and I’d have to say it succeeded,” Robinson said.
A spokesman for the Morouns could not be reached Tuesday. A call to Mickey Blashfield, the head of government relations for the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge, was not returned.
The family gave about $1.5 million to state and federal funds in the 2009-10 election cycle, including about $600,000 at the state level, and is on pace to equal or surpass those donations in this cycle because much of the fund-raising expected to occur in the election year of 2012 hasn’t happened yet.
In 2011, the Morouns gave about $20,000 to 18 state lawmakers representing both parties. Recipients included two members of the Senate Economic Development Committee that held months of hearings on Snyder’s bridge bill before voting it down. Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, the chairman, received $1,000 from the Morouns. Sen. Virgil Smith, D-Detroit, received $3,000. Neither supported the bill for a new bridge.
The Morouns gave $20,000 to the House Republican Campaign Fund, $15,000 to House Speaker Jase Bolger’s political action committee, $10,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, and $10,000 each to the Democrats’ House and Senate funds.
The political donations are in addition to millions of dollars the Morouns spent on TV ads attacking the plan for a public bridge. A new series of TV ads began airing last week amid expectations Snyder may push ahead with the bridge project without legislative approval.
Tom Shields, a spokesman for backers of the public bridge dubbed the New International Trade Crossing, said the Morouns were not such huge political donors until the issue of the second span arose.
“They certainly have the right to do this, but I think legislators and members of Congress just have to be aware of their agenda,” he said.