Moroun continues campaign of lies in bridge ballot initiative

Rep. Rashida Tlaib appalled at Matty Moroun’s attempts to get his way

The Detroit News / Neal Rubin

State Rep. Rashida Tlaib has seen first-hand how far — and how low — the Detroit International Bridge Co. will go to get its way.

In a sense, she even admires the DIBC’s tenacity, if not its increasingly sketchy methods. “This is a privately owned business,” she says of Matty Moroun’s home-grown conglomerate, “and they’re going to do everything possible to protect it.”

There’s something particularly cynical, though, in the company’s current campaign to tweak the Michigan constitution to its advantage — and to dismiss voters as gullible saps who’ll sign a petition and even vote for an amendment if you show them enough flagrantly false commercials.

The courts have consistently found Moroun & Co. to be in violation of the law and disdainful of it. Windsor wants no part of the span Moroun claims he’ll build alongside the Ambassador Bridge. There’s no guarantee he’ll even build it if he can blow up the New International Trade Crossing project before it starts.

Those are facts, inflexible as an I-beam. But public opinion can be bent, spindled and mutilated with something as simple as commercials … or at least, that’s how the DIBC is betting, and it’s betting big.

“They’re trying to taint any kind of democratic process we have in Michigan,” Tlaib says. And if you believed the ads, you’d think they were doing it for us, instead of to us.

Full-on appalled

Tlaib, a Democrat from Detroit, represents Delray, where the American end of the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) would sit.

Elected in 2008, she pointed out soon afterward that before Moroun’s company could build a second span, it would need to produce an environmental impact statement. The company’s response was to hire a political consultant to mount a recall campaign.

The recall fizzled, but it was a clear sign that the bridge company is willing to grub in the mud.

As it happens, Tlaib has reservations about the NITC. While Gov. Rick Snyder and most significant business organizations think it’s a grand idea, she’s concerned that Delray residents aren’t getting anything in return for hosting a massive span and the diesel fumes that come with it.

She’s full-on appalled, however, at Moroun’s attempt to eliminate a potential competitor by bankrolling a ballot proposal.

His custom-tailored amendment would prohibit state money or involvement in international crossings without a statewide vote. Private international crossings — and except for a logging bridge in Minnesota, his is the only one in the country — are conspicuously exempted from voter approval.

Repeating old lies

The first step in elbowing onto the ballot is to collect about 325,000 signatures by early July, plus spares to replace all the people who sign their name “Bart Simpson.” Cost: Upward of $2 million.

That’s on top of the $5 million already spent on misleading ads, and the next $5 million to encourage petition signings and subsequent “Yes” votes in favor of making a billionaire richer. Various chambers of commerce, our governor and Canada’s government may want the downriver crossing, but as Tlaib points out, “Every year they delay, this is $60 million in their pocket.”

The Michigan Truth Squad, part of the bipartisan Center for Michigan, has rated every DIBC commercial a “Flagrant Foul.” No matter; each new ad repeats some old lies and adds a few new ones.

Only the bridge company and its hired guns, for instance, have claimed that the span will cost $2 billion and we’ll get stuck with the tab. Other analysts put Michigan’s share at $550 million, and our contribution will be advanced by the Canadian government and repaid with tolls.

Ads have claimed that Snyder is “pressuring senators,” though no senator has complained, and it’s Moroun and associates who contributed more than $550,000 to 2010 political campaigns.

The span Moroun talks about building instead of the NITC “is a fake bridge,” Tlaib says. “It doesn’t exist. They have nowhere to land it.”

That goes nicely with fake facts. The question now is whether he can spend enough to make us buy them.