By Jonathon Oosting
The private Ambassador Bridge company continues to spend large sums on televison ads designed to spur opposition to a new public crossing that also would connect Detroit and Windsor, according to a report released today by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
The nonpartisan watchdog group says the Detroit International Bridge Company, owned by billionaire Matty Moroun, spent more than $3.4 million to air anti-government bridge commercials across the state through the first six months of the year.
Television records reviewed by the Lansing-based group indicate that the DIBC, which spent a total of $6 million on similar ads last year, plans to continue the campaign in the lead up to the November primary, which is likely to include a ballot referendum backed by the company.
“They’re spending a lot of money to try to steer public policy in a direction that suits them,” said MCFN executive director Rich Robinson. “They had some success legislatively, and it remains to be seen how this whole thing will end up. This is how public policy works right now — by large-scale spending.”
In comparison, the MCFN report indicates that a group calling itself the Fund for Michigan Jobs, whose address of record is with the Dykema law firm in Lansing, has spent $271,380 on pro-bridge ads so far this year.
Like his predecessor, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is promoting the economic potential of the planned New International Crossing, which would connect Detroit and Windsor several miles south of the Moroun-owned Ambassador Bridge.
Enabling legislation stalled in the state Senate last year, prompting Snyder to bypass the state legislature in favor of an interlocal agreement with Canada, which he announced last month.
In addition to running ads, Moroun’s bridge company is funding a petition drive that would amend Michigan’s constitution to require a public vote before the state can build any new international crossing.
Snyder has said the interlocal agreement with Canada is a contract that cannot be undone, suggesting the ballot proposal simply would make it difficult to do future projects.
Recent anti-bridge ads running across the state include a disclaimer indicated that they were paid for by The People Should Decide ballot committee. But Robinson, who reviewed public records of television stations, said those ads actually were paid for by the bridge company.
Mickey Blashfield, director of government affairs for the bridge company and a spokesman for the ballot committee, confirmed that fact and noted that the in-kind spending will be included in future campaign finance reports, as required by law.
“It’s something that we’re very, very aware of,” he said, noting that the ads are intended to “bring facts to the public that have been ignored or pushed aside by proponents of the government bridge.”
NITC advocates have criticized the ads for apparent inaccuracies, including the oft-repeated claim the government-owned bridge could end up costing Michigan taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Canada has agreed to cover Michigan’s upfront project costs (which it will recoup via future toll revenues), and the agreement contains language specifying that “Michigan Parties are not obligated to pay for any” associated costs.
“The fact that the agreement includes an aspirational statement does not mean it will not have a real economic consequence to Michigan taxpayers,” Blashfield said.