By Nolan Finley
For those who signed ballot initiative petitions this spring and summer, you may be wondering what your signature was worth.
If you signed the petition backed by billionaire Matty Moroun to block a new Detroit River bridge, your name netted the signature gatherer $2. Same for the proposal from Americans for Prosperity — also bankrolled by Moroun — to require a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to change tax policy.
Your signature was less valuable — $1 — if it appeared on petitions to mandate a 25 percent renewable energy portfolio in Michigan, force the unionization of home health workers, or shield union members from reforms adopted by Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature.
The big prize was a signature on petitions to greatly expand casino gambling in Michigan — $2.50 each, reflecting the proposal’s high stakes.
That’s the price list on the website for a company called The Voters Voice Group, which collected signatures for all of those petition drives.
The Voters Voice Group bills itself as “a nonpartisan team focused on supporting the voice of the people.” That’s a crock.
What the team supports are wealthy corporate and union interests with the means to buy a piece of the state Constitution.
Outfits like this have helped hijack the citizen initiative process and turn it into a game of high finance in which millions are spent to mislead voters into supporting issues they likely have little passion for, but which are vitally important to a narrow group.
Organized labor has already raised more than $17 million to support its various initiatives to enshrine bargaining table advantages in the Constitution.
More will be raised for those measures, and to repeal the emergency manager law, if it makes it on the ballot.
Moroun has spent nearly $5 million already on the anti-bridge proposal, and it’s still three long months till the November election. Once the campaign begins in earnest, that number could double.
The tax policy measure has already raised $2 million and the renewable energy backers $2.2 million.
The high-rolling sleeper is the drive to expand the number of casinos in Michigan.
Backers have already spent $2.8 million, but that amount could multiply 10 times or more before November.
This is an extraordinarily curious proposal, in that it identifies eight specific locations in the state where new casinos would be located.
Somebody owns those properties, and they stand to make a ton if the measure passes. It will mark the first time constitutional privileges are assigned to street addresses.
The idea of the initiative process is that it gives citizens a means to fix or improve the Constitution to make it work better for the people. It was never intended to be used for such things as creating a place where unions could hide from reformers, or settling matters like energy policy that should be the purview of the Legislature, or enriching Las Vegas gambling houses, or blocking a specific infrastructure project.
Michigan is at risk of seeing its Constitution auctioned off to the highest bidders in November.
Nothing would stop this egregious abuse of the initiative process quicker than a defeat of all these ballot measures, leaving the investors with nothing to show for their millions spent.