Report highlights heavy Moroun donations in Washington

By John Gallagher
Detroit Free Press Business Writer

A watchdog group known as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is issuing a report this morning highlighting Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun’s political contributions to federal legislators and increased lobbying expenditures.

But a Moroun family spokesman denied the contributions are improper.

CREW says that the Moroun family and associates have contributed nearly $500,000 to federal candidates in recent years, and that Moroun’s lobbying costs rose 56% since 2009.

The increased contributions came as the battle over Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed New International Trade Crossing bridge shifts more from Lansing toward Washington, where federal officials will have a major say in whether the NITC gets built.

Moroun wants to stop a publicly owned bridge, and hopes to build a second span of his own near the Ambassador.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, said that such contributions usually come from corporations and not necessarily from families. She said the money is usually meant to curry favor.

“Far more often you see corporations who are involved in pay to play, and less so particular families,” she said. “This is a pretty egregious situation.”

A top executive for the Moroun family denied that the family’s political contributions are improper.

Mickey Blashfield, head of government relations for the Moroun family’s CenTra, Inc., issued the following statement in reaction to the CREW report:

“CREW has a well-known agenda, and it appears this installment won’t be deterred by facts or context.

“They have started from a misguided, self-created premise, then systematically ignored any balance as they editorialize. CREW has not considered the variety of business and transportation interests our company has across the country and they seem to have overlooked the documented millions of Canadian dollars influencing American interests – border, trade and otherwise.

“CREW may have to stretch to reach their desired conclusion, but the Morouns work hard every day to pay taxes, provide quality of life for the thousands of families employed and to provide competitive services to our customers which are the backbone of our country.

“The fact that the Morouns are civically active, philanthropic and interested in good government should not be a surprise to anyone except CREW.”

The Moroun contributions have raised eyebrows before. In 2011, the Free Press reported the Moroun donor network gave almost $1.5 million to state and congressional candidates in the 2009-10 election cycle.

The nonprofit CREW said the biggest recipient of Moroun-related cash has been Rep. Tim Walberg, a Republican from the Jackson area, who serves on the House Homeland Security committee. Walberg got $82,700 since the 2008 cycle from Moroun, his family and associates.

The second and third largest recipients were former Reps. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., with $78,700, and Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich., with $61,400.

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., is fourth on the list, with $44,400. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the House Republican leader, was fifth, and received $25,000, all from contributions made in 2011. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., sixth on the list, has taken in $23,500.

Miller issued a statement Tuesday afternoon that said her “advocacy has always been for the Blue Water Bridge, which is located in my district.”

The CREW report said that several of the top recipients have taken a stance against the NITC public bridge project. In 2008, Miller sent a letter to then-U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters asking that a study on the new bridge be put on hold.

On May 30, 2008, Kilpatrick, Walberg, Knollenberg and McCotter sent a similar letter calling for the indefinite postponement of any plans to build the bridge.