Moroun’s political donations hit $2 million mark

Morouns are big political donors as they fight public bridge

By Paul Egan
Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau

LANSING — There were no major elections in 2011, but the Moroun family didn’t take its foot off the political giving gas as it fought plans for a public bridge across the Detroit River, campaign finance reports show.

The Morouns gave at least $242,400 to state-related political funds in 2011, including $100,000 to the Michigan Republican Party and $20,000 to help developer Bobby Schostak’s successful bid for the state GOP chairmanship, records show.

Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, opposes a plan backed by Gov. Rick Snyder to build a publicly owned span about 2 miles downstream. Moroun and his wife, Nora, along with his son, Matthew, and his wife, Lindsay, made the donations.

The Michigan Republican Party has remained neutral on the public bridge despite strong support for the project from Snyder, most business groups, and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

There is no link between the party’s neutral stance and the money Moroun gave, state GOP spokesman Matt Frendewey said Tuesday.

“We have members on both sides of this debate within our party,” Frendewey said Tuesday.

The more than $240,000 that went to funds connected to state campaigns is still a partial number because about 10 state lawmakers hadn’t filed annual reports on time, and money given to political action committees late in the year isn’t required to be reported until April. The state money is in addition to more than $368,000 the Morouns gave to federal campaign committees last year.

Both amounts are significant in a non-election year, said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

“I think it’s clearly meant to drive policy, and I’d have to say it succeeded,” Robinson said.

A spokesman for the Morouns could not be reached Tuesday. A call to Mickey Blashfield, the head of government relations for the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge, was not returned.

The family gave about $1.5 million to state and federal funds in the 2009-10 election cycle, including about $600,000 at the state level, and is on pace to equal or surpass those donations in this cycle because much of the fund-raising expected to occur in the election year of 2012 hasn’t happened yet.

In 2011, the Morouns gave about $20,000 to 18 state lawmakers representing both parties. Recipients included two members of the Senate Economic Development Committee that held months of hearings on Snyder’s bridge bill before voting it down. Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, the chairman, received $1,000 from the Morouns. Sen. Virgil Smith, D-Detroit, received $3,000. Neither supported the bill for a new bridge.

The Morouns gave $20,000 to the House Republican Campaign Fund, $15,000 to House Speaker Jase Bolger’s political action committee, $10,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, and $10,000 each to the Democrats’ House and Senate funds.

The political donations are in addition to millions of dollars the Morouns spent on TV ads attacking the plan for a public bridge. A new series of TV ads began airing last week amid expectations Snyder may push ahead with the bridge project without legislative approval.

Tom Shields, a spokesman for backers of the public bridge dubbed the New International Trade Crossing, said the Morouns were not such huge political donors until the issue of the second span arose.

“They certainly have the right to do this, but I think legislators and members of Congress just have to be aware of their agenda,” he said.

A New Bridge Across the Detroit River: Conflict of Interest?

Michigan Radio

By Jack Lessenberry

Here’s something you may not know about journalists: We have a pretty high standard of integrity, especially when it comes to conflicts of interest. We normally don’t cover any events in which we have any kind of personal interest — especially economic interest.

Any time we even suspect we may have any conflict, we are obliged to tell our bosses, and our public. There are some gray areas, but I can tell you this. If I did a commentary urging you to support someone who gave me thousands of dollars, I’d be fired.

But a version of that is going on in the Michigan Legislature, where today, the state senate’s economic development committee is scheduled to vote on whether to send two bills authorizing a new Detroit River bridge to the full senate.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, who supports the new bridge, thinks he can get enough votes. Others aren’t so sure.

But here’s something I am sure about:  At least four of the seven members of this committee have a big conflict of interest.

They took campaign money from the only real force opposing the New International Trade Crossing: Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, who desperately wants to preserve his monopoly control of this nation’s most economically important trade crossing.

Take Senator Geoff Hansen, for example, a Republican from the town of Hart on the west side of the state, who was elected in a tight race last year. He told Crain’s Detroit Business he “thinks” members of the Moroun family gave his campaign four thousand dollars, but denied this had influenced him in any way.

Senator Mike Nofs said the same, while admitting that he won his job in a special election during which he says he got “a couple thousand from the Moroun family.” Committee Chair Mike Kowall took Moroun’s money too, and so did Senator Judy Emmons.

Well, they may all be above being influenced. But that’s not what Matty Moroun thinks. He wants a return on his investment. Specifically, he wants to kill any new bridge, by any means necessary. And he has been very successful at getting lawmakers who’ve taken his money to stop the bridge.

If they stop it for good, however, Michigan will be the biggest loser. We’ll miss out on more than two billion dollars in federal highway funds. A new bridge will be built somewhere else, and we’ll lose more jobs.

I have never in my life seen an issue like this. Democrats say we need a new bridge; so do Republicans. The conservative Michigan Chamber of Commerce wants a bridge.

The CEOs of Ford, GM and Chrysler say this bridge is essential. William Ford Jr. said yesterday that the aged Ambassador Bridge is “becoming capacity strained, which is costing our region money and, ultimately, jobs.”

There is virtually no one outside the Michigan legislature opposed to a new bridge, except for those who work for the Morouns.

If any of these lawmakers on that committee vote against the bridge today, they will have been guilty of taking money to vote for a special interest. And they will have voted against what politicians on the right and on the left agree is the good of the people.

If that’s not shocking, I don’t know what is.

Michigan needs its new trade crossing

Snyder, Richardville must continue fight to pass bills

Lansing State Journal

After months of work by Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration to support the New International Trade Crossing, the project got hung up in a Senate committee.

It may be moved to a new committee to keep it alive. That’s the right call. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and Snyder must not give up this fight.

Michigan needs the new crossing. Snyder has worked carefully with the Canadian government to craft a plan that will build it without using Michigan tax dollars. Canada will pay Michigan’s $550 million share of construction costs, to be paid back by toll revenue.

Business and labor leaders across the state support the new bridge project. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the project. Snyder and four past governors of Michigan support it.

The Canadian government is eager for a new crossing with better highway connections, one that would take heavy truck traffic off Windsor’s busy streets. For that reason, it’s not likely to support Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun’s plan to build his own second span next to his existing bridge.

Detroit is the nation’s busiest commercial border crossing, with $120 billion in goods crossing annually. Construction of a new crossing would generate some 10,000 construction jobs, a sorely needed boost to Michigan’s economy.

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, is one of the GOP senators supporting the new bridge. Aside from economic impact, Jones is concerned about the national security implications of Moroun’s bridge, which could be sold in a private deal.

The new trade crossing would be publicly owned, but privately operated, assuring access for shipping without meddling by those seeking to advance their own agendas.

Moroun’s manipulation of the Michigan Legislature is concerning. He spent nearly $5 million in advertising in the past six months, much of it blasting Snyder or targeted to pressure individual lawmakers.

And that doesn’t count additional millions in campaign contributions.

Michigan must not let Moroun block this much needed new bridge.

Pass the New International Trade Crossing project, senators.

An LSJ editorial

Michigan Chamber of Commerce Supports New International Trade Crossing, Urges Lawmakers to Vote for Senate Bills 410-11

LANSING, Mich. – Calling on State Senators to support Michigan’s job providers, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce today urged members of the Senate Economic Development Committee to act now on legislation to create the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

“The Michigan Chamber of Commerce supports the NITC as a tool to promote conditions favorable to job creation and business growth,” said Michigan Chamber President and CEO Rich Studley. “The Chamber has long supported improving the condition and performance of Michigan’s transportation system. Creation of the NITC is a necessary and important step in rebuilding Michigan’s roads and bridges.”

“State lawmakers have a clear choice by this important legislation: Be a bridge builder or a barrier to progress,” Studley added.

“The Michigan Chamber has been a strong advocate of the Administration’s plan to reinvent Michigan and supports the new bridge between Detroit to Windsor as part of that plan,” noted Jim Holcomb, Senior Vice President of Business Advocacy & Associate General Counsel for the Michigan Chamber. “Building the NITC offers great benefits to our state’s economic future, including the creation and retention of jobs.”

“As members of the State Senate prepare to vote on Senate Bills 410-11, we ask them to support Michigan’s job providers by voting ‘yes’ on the NITC,” Holcomb concluded.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce is a statewide business organization representing approximately 6,800 employers, trade associations and local chambers of commerce. The Michigan Chamber represents businesses of every size and type in all 83 counties of the state. The Chamber was established in 1959 to be an advocate for Michigan’s job providers in the legislative, political and legal process. It is one of only four state chambers of commerce in the nation accredited by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber Focusing On Lawmakers, Not Ads With NITC Blessing

MIRS News

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce board just endorsed the New International Trade Crossing (NITC), but don’t expect the state’s largest business group to start countering the $5 million anti-bridge ad campaign, yet.

“We hope the Legislature takes it up this fall,” said Chamber President and CEO Rich STUDLEY.

The Chamber had been neutral on one of Gov. Rick SNYDER‘s top priorities, even as other big business groups like Business Leaders for Michigan, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce lined up in support. The Detroit International Bridge Co. (DIBC), which owns the Ambassador Bridge and has mounted a pricey campaign against the NITC, is a member of the Michigan Chamber.

The board made the decision Tuesday morning. It was a long process, starting with Lt. Gov. Brian CALLEY this winter requesting that the Chamber take a position (See “Calley To Give Lawmakers The Book On DRIC,” 2/3/11).

Studley noted that the DIBC’s membership was a factor. He said the board also wanted ample time to gather information. Vice President Jim HOLCOMB has been meeting with senators on the issue, Studley said. He said he and Holcomb did site visits in Detroit of the Ambassador Bridge and the location for the proposed new bridge.

And over the past few months, officials have sat down with Snyder, Calley, Legislative Liaison Dick POSTHUMUS, Strategy Director Bill RUSTEM, Chief of Staff Dennis MUCHMORE and Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) staff.

Studley said the board concluded that the NITC has the most benefits for the state’s economic future.

“We don’t support legislation that hasn’t been introduced,” he said. “I guess it’s old-fashioned, but we still like to read the bills.”

Studley vowed that the Chamber will be a “strong ally and partner” with the Governor on the bridge.

“You know us pretty well,” Studley said. “We don’t do half-hearted.”

The DIBC has spent $4.7 million in ads against the new bridge this year, while supporters have spent nothing. MIRS asked Studley today if the Chamber might open its wallet for a TV campaign.

He noted that “we just took position yesterday.” He said the focus now is on “actively expressing our support to media and the Legislature.

“We’ll work this issue hard and we’ll do our part,” Studley said. “I think we can have the most impact in one-on-one conversations with lawmakers.”

He added: “We don’t have anything negative or critical to say about the Ambassador Bridge or management. We’re not going to go there.”

MIRS noted that the Chamber could just fund positive ads on the virtues of the NITC.

“I don’t know how it will unfold,” Studley said.

He said that the Chamber today hand-delivered formal letters of support to Calley and bill sponsor Senate Majority Leader Randy RICHARDVILLE (R-Monroe). The group also notified DIBC, but Studley said he didn’t know if the company had responded.

MIRS asked that, given the Chamber’s influence and track record, if that would be enough to get the NITC through the Legislature, despite obstacles.

“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll find out.”

The Canadian government has agreed to put up Michigan’s $550 million share. Snyder has struck a deal with the Federal Highway Administration to use that toward federal matching funds for other infrastructure projects.

The Chamber has long endorsed more money for infrastructure, including raising the gas tax. MIRS asked if the matching funds were a big factor in the group’s endorsement. Studley said there wasn’t any one factor, but there was “just an accumulation of information over time.”

In a separate action, Studley said the board reaffirmed its support for a “comprehensive statewide transportation investment plan” in light of the upcoming Governor’s special message on transportation. Studley said there are broader issues of transportation, like fixing more than 300 bridges across the state, that shouldn’t be forgotten with the NITC.

Michigan Chamber of Commerce backs Snyder plan for new Detroit-Windsor bridge

By Jeff T. Wattrick | MLive.com

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the New International Trade Crossing plan for a new Detroit-Windsor border crossing.

Sept. 21, Detroit News: Endorsement of the New International Trade Crossing by Michigan’s largest and most influential business organization is a major boost for Snyder and backers of the bridge, which include nearly all business and labor organizations in Michigan.

It further isolates Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who opposes the public bridge across the Detroit River as an unfair encroachment by government on his private business. Moroun wants to use private money to build a second span beside his existing one.

The NITC—then called the Detroit River International Crossing—failed to win approval in the state legislature last fall. Newly elected Gov. Rick Snyder revived the bridge—conceived through a bi-national planning process—during his first State of the State address in January.

The state Senate is currently considering a bill to approve Snyder’s NITC plan.

The statewide Chamber’s endorsement follows the lead of several local Chambers of Commerce including the Detroit Regional Chamber, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Ann Arbor.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed the Detroit International Bridge Company’s proposal to twin the Ambassador Bridge.

Michigan Chamber of Commerce backs Snyder-favored public bridge

Paul Egan / Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has ended months of neutrality and come out in favor of a new public bridge to Canada backed by Gov. Rick Snyder, chamber President and CEO Rich Studley said Wednesday.

Endorsement of the New International Trade Crossing by Michigan’s largest and most influential business organization is a major boost for Snyder and backers of the bridge, which include nearly all business and labor organizations in Michigan.

It further isolates Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who opposes the public bridge across the Detroit River as an unfair encroachment by government on his private business. Moroun wants to use private money to build a second span beside his existing one.

“We’re very supportive of the governor’s plan to reinvent Michigan and move the state forward,” Studley told The Detroit News. “The decision was made on Monday and Tuesday by our executive committee and board of directors after careful review of the legislation and healthy debate over the pros and cons.”

He sad the chamber is member driven and pushes for economic growth.

Snyder, a Republican, is pushing bills now before a Senate committee that would create a public authority to call for bids on a bridge Snyder says would be publicly owned but privately financed, built and managed. It would be built at a cost of close to $1 billion about two miles south of the Ambassador Bridge. The total project cost, including plazas and road connections on both sides of the river, is estimated at about $3.6 billion.

Snyder Press Secretary Sara Wurfel said the chamber’s endorsement is “fantastic news.”

Tom Shields, spokesman for the backers of the bridge, said the chamber endorsement “is the one link that we were missing.”

Now, “everything is pointing in the direction that all the questions the Legislature had about this project are getting answered,” Shields said.

Mickey Blashfield, director of government relations for the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge, said he wants to discuss the decision with chamber officials.

“I assumed they were getting a lot of pressure from the governor’s people,” Blashfield said.

“The administration has had to reach out to a number of entities to solicit their support for something that is of no consequence to them in terms of an endorsement, but it doesn’t change the facts at the border, it doesn’t change the tremendous cost of the governor’s program compared to the private sector investment at the Ambassador Bridge, and it doesn’t change the underlying need.”

Snyder and business groups say the new bridge would clear a border bottleneck because it would have direct freeway connections on both sides of the river. Trucks that use the Ambassador Bridge must go through more than a dozen traffic lights in Windsor, Ontario, before reaching the freeway.

Another selling point is the backers’ insistence that the new public bridge will cost Michigan taxpayers nothing. Canada has offered to front Michigan’s $550 million share of the project costs and recover the money from the state’s share of bridge tolls.

Moroun has spent close to $5 million on Michigan TV ads depicting the public bridge as an economic boondoggle. He is also airing TV ads in Iowa and across the country aimed at influencing the presidential candidates and federal government.

State GOP lawmakers have generally opposed the public span. Democrats have supported it.

Studley said that in addition to endorsing the public bridge, the chamber’s board of directors is calling on the administration to lay out “a comprehensive statewide transportation investment plan” when Snyder delivers his special message on infrastructure in October.

That includes roads, bridges, ports, airports and public transit, Studley said.

There are more than 500 transportation entities in Michigan and the plan should address ways to eliminate overlap and duplication, Studley said.