Michigan businesses face pressure on political donations

Half a dozen major Michigan companies are being called to the carpet for political donations to Republican lawmakers who support a ballot initiative that would tighten voting rules and, critics say, suppress participation by African Americans.

The Defend Black Voters Coalition includes several community organizing groups in the Detroit area and is supported by the national nonprofit liberal organization Community Change Action. He is stepping up the pressure on six companies: General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., DTE Energy Co., Consumers Energy Co., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Delta Dental.

Their political action committees have given money to 80 lawmakers who support similar election bills vetoed by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, including some who have embraced former President Donald Trump’s false claims. that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

The companies concerned claim to be in favor of the right to vote and their PAC contributions, which they believe are financed by employees, should not be interpreted otherwise. They lobby legislators on a host of other policy issues. Cutting aid to GOP lawmakers while helping Democrats, they say, would inappropriately transform PACs from bipartisan to partisan entities.

If the citizen-initiated ballot measure is certified for the 2024 ballot, the GOP-led legislature could — depending on which party controls in the next two-year session — enact the anti-veto bill rather than vote. let it go to a public vote.

The Republican proposal would, among other things, strengthen in-person voter ID rules and require potential absentee voters to provide a copy of their photo ID or include their driver’s license number, ID number of State or the last four digits of their company number. Security number. Voters, however, could vote this fall on a Democratic-backed constitutional amendment that would essentially render the GOP initiative moot.

Activists say it’s time to call out the ‘hypocrisy’ of companies that support voting rights or support black lives on social media or in public letters but whose PACs directly or indirectly fund candidates who want to make voting more difficult. Republicans argue the measure would make elections safer amid a rise in mail-in voting and distrust of election results, though fraud is extremely rare.

This is potentially perilous terrain for the business world at a time of grave political divisions. Big business has been pushed to be more vocal on political issues in general, but they have also come under heavy criticism from conservatives for taking “woke” positions on social issues.

Defend Black Voters has raised nearly $1.5 million in contributions since 2015, including $126,000 this year, from PACs at the six companies to 80 GOP lawmakers. When donations to three major entities that drive Republican candidacies are taken into account – the House Republican Campaign Committee, the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, and the Michigan Republican Party – the total comes to 2, $8 million, including $260,000 in 2022.

Eboni Taylor is executive director of the Detroit-based Mothering Justice Action Fund, which is part of Defend Black Voters and advocates for affordable child care and paid family leave for mothers of color.

“Any movement around our issues is absolutely based on moms being able to fully exercise their right to vote,” she said. “We see companies come out saying they support black lives…but then, really behind closed doors, they help suppress and suppress the voices of black mothers.”

Executives from four of the companies — GM, Ford, DTE and Blue Cross — were among 37 Michigan business CEOs who issued a joint statement in April 2021 against actions that reduce voting, especially among historically deprived communities. of their rights. They stopped pressing for specific legislation, but said election laws must be crafted in a bipartisan fashion after Republicans introduced bills and the state’s GOP announced plans for the ballot campaign. as a means of circumventing Whitmer’s eventual veto.

“The General Motors employee-funded PAC supports the election of U.S. federal and state candidates on both sides of the aisle who promote sound trade policies, support working Americans, and understand the importance of a robust domestic auto industry. as we pursue a future all-electric vehicle,” spokeswoman Melissa Miller said.

Ford said fair ballot access “is the foundation of a democratic society” and the automaker has made federal election days a corporate holiday.

“Our PAC employee makes bipartisan contributions based on a variety of considerations important to customers, our team, and our business. They cover things like manufacturing, mobility, innovation, and commerce,” the spokeswoman said. Melissa Miller.

DTE said its millions of customers are affected by policies set at the federal, state and local levels.

“On behalf of our customers, DTE Energy supports public policies that promote affordable, reliable and cleaner energy – as well as policies that ensure our local communities thrive and that our customers and employees can all benefit from a cleaner society. open and fairer,” spokesperson Pete Ternes said.

Defend Black Voters officials say they understand the companies have a myriad of interests in Lansing, but say the right to vote is so fundamental that there’s no excuse not to reconsider assisting lawmakers. They also say their research shows 31 of 80 lawmakers took one or more actions to challenge Joe Biden’s 154,108 votes over Trump in Michigan, including half who received money – 45,000 $ – in the first half of this year.

“What we heard was, ‘Well, we’re in front of everyone. We give to Republicans, we give to Democrats. We have problems on both sides of the aisle,” said Iain Gold, a strategic activist with Community Change Action. “We’re also trying to say, ‘Not all of these people are pushing these initiatives with the same vigor. So if you say you have to be in front of everyone but you keep giving money to extremists, so help us because it’s really hard for us to understand.”

Consumers Energy said that as a regulated utility, it has a public policy interest in a variety of issues.

“Exercising the right to vote and ensuring that the vote remains safe, fair, free, and accessible to all Michiganders is among the other public policy issues being considered, but it is not the singular issue on which to base decisions.” , said spokeswoman Katie Carey.

Blue Cross spokesman Andy Hetzel said employees who donate to the insurer’s PAC have political views ranging from very conservative to very progressive.

“The function of bluesPAC is to build strong bipartisan relationships with policy makers who support our goal of improving health care – it has never worked to punish those whose views diverge from ours,” a- he declared. “Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has been a leading business voice calling for fair ballot access for all Michigan voters. We look forward to a more comprehensive plan from this coalition that allows us to engage responsibly to support the principles we share, protect the rights of all Michigan citizens while continuing our effective bipartisan political approach to supporting high-quality, affordable health care for all.”

Delta Dental spokeswoman Margaret Trimer said the insurer spends millions every year on initiatives that support communities of color.

“Delta Dental believes that everyone who has the right to vote should have the opportunity to do so,” she said. “We use our PAC to support lawmakers and bipartisan candidates whose views align with the company’s mission to improve oral health. Delta Dental advocates for better access to oral care, especially for underserved communities.”

Defend Black Voters says it will continue to lobby companies, with which they want “meaningful” engagement, including meetings.

In June, activists demonstrated outside the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, whose sponsors included all but one of the companies. They rallied late last month against DTE’s proposed power rate increases. And they started speaking out publicly at board meetings at Michigan State University and Wayne State University, where Blue Cross and Delta Dental have insurance plans.

Corporate donations to racial equity causes nationwide have increased since the 2020 police killing of George Floyd. But Taylor said corporate political donations are now held higher by employees and consumers.

“That, with what we’re doing, I hope that speaks to them and they change their ways and think creatively about how they could help certain causes. … That’s not what we’re seeing in this moment. We’re seeing a lot of excuses.”