Moroun pours $5M more into bridge fight



Lansing — Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun plopped down another $5.1 million this week in his expensive Proposal 6 campaign to convince voters a new Canadian-financed bridge over the Detroit River is a bad deal.

Moroun’s documented spending tab over the past two years fighting a $2.1 billion bridge sought by Gov. Rick Snyder has topped $24.3 million — and it’s expected to rise today when his Proposal 6 ballot committee must report expenses from late July through Sunday.

As he seeks voter approval of Proposal 6 to require statewide and local votes for new bridges and tunnels to Canada, Moroun’s spending spree is one of the highest in Michigan for a statewide campaign.

“He is spending more money than we’ve seen on a campaign since Dick DeVos,” said Tom Shields, spokesman for Taxpayers Against Monopolies, which is opposed to Moroun’s ballot proposal.

Amway businessman DeVos spent a record $35 million in his failed 2006 race against then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

After months of Moroun’s ads dominating the airwaves, supporters of building the New International Trade Crossing are starting to fight back against the billionaire trucking mogul.

Taxpayers Against Monopolies plans to begin airing its own TV ads next week, Shields said, though their ad buys will pale in comparison to the small fortune the Ambassador Bridge owner has spent to date.

“We don’t need to spend as much to tell the truth as they do to convince people with their lies,” Shields said.

Multifaceted effort

Proposal 6 is seen as an attempt to halt or delay construction of a new bridge from Windsor to southwest Detroit by requiring statewide and local votes for the state to be a part owner of any international crossing.

Canada has offered to front Michigan’s $550 million share of the NITC project. The money would be paid back through tolls under an agreement Snyder signed with Canadian officials in June.

“This isn’t about building a bridge, which a lot of people think it is,” said Mickey Blashfield, spokesman for Moroun’s The People Should Decide campaign. “It’s about who makes the decision.”

Moroun’s campaign has used television, radio and print advertising, mass mailings and phone calls to potential voters from live operators to get out his message.

It’s a multifaceted effort not seen since the 2004 passage of a constitutional amendment requiring voter approval for new casinos — a campaign that cost both sides a combined $27 million, said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

“Money appears to be no object in this at all,” Robinson said. “The reality is they’ve got money to use in any and every medium imaginable.”

Shields said some voters have reported receiving Moroun-sponsored phone calls from out-of-state telemarketers asking whether they support building a new bridge.

Regardless of how respondents answer, they’re told to vote “yes” on Proposal 6, Shields said, adding the calls are deceptive.

Blashfield, who denies the charge, said the live operator calls are providing “quality information” as opposed to automated phone calls most voters despise.

Contributions reported

Campaign finance reports show Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. made contributions of $700,000 on Tuesday and $4.4 million on Wednesday to the billionaire’s The People Should Decide ballot committee.

Even though the committee bought TV ad slots in August well ahead of most state and federal campaigns, they made some “additional buys for the last week” of the election, Blashfield said.

Ballot committee campaign donation and spending reports for late July through Sunday are due to be filed with the state Bureau of Elections today. But groups for or against six ballot initiatives began filing reports of later contributions this week.

Blashfield said the bridge company’s $5.1 million in late contributions were to pay the committee’s TV and radio bills as they come due and was no attempt to conceal spending figures in today’s report.

“That will buy you a lot of TV, but it doesn’t buy you new facts,” said Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for Detroit Regional Chamber, which urged its members in a mass mailing this week to vote “no” on Proposal 6.

Moroun spent $4.6 million through late July promoting the initiative and getting it on the ballot, according to a campaign finance report. His company shelled out more than $14 million in TV ads attacking the bridge project and promoting Proposal 6 from early 2011 through Oct. 8, according to spending data tracked by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Public records documenting Moroun’s spending do not account for other costs his companies have incurred hiring consultants and attorneys to fight construction of a new bridge that would compete for the 8,000 trucks that mostly cross his bridge daily. Robinson noted Moroun and his family are generous contributors to legislators and judges, particularly Republicans.

Moroun’s ad campaign has recently focused on claiming Michigan taxpayers may be stuck with “billions” in debt from the new bridge and the bridge costs would divert taxpayer resources from schools, public safety and tax cuts for seniors. Moroun’s claims have repeatedly been debunked by several legal experts who have studied the bridge agreement and do not work for Snyder or Moroun.

In the past two weeks, Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley have crisscrossed the state advocating a “no” vote on Proposal 6 while promoting the potential economic benefits of the new bridge.

Snyder has appeared at two events in Dearborn and Detroit, while Calley has spoken at three events in Dearborn, Grand Rapids and Sault Ste. Marie. Calley is set to speak again today at a Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce event in Saginaw.

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Moroun’s running tab

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun’s companies have spent at least $24.3 million over the past two years fighting a new bridge to Canada.
$6 million: Television ads by Detroit International Bridge Co. in 2011 fighting new bridge
$3.35 million: Television ads by DIBC in 2012 fighting new bridge
$4.68 million: Signature gathering, ballot access and initial advertising for Proposal 6 through late July
$5.13 million: Television ads for ballot campaign from early August to Oct. 8
$5.12 million: Contributions Tuesday and Wednesday for ads airing the week before Nov. 6 election
Millions more in undisclosed expenses and campaign costs incurred since late July

From The Detroit News: