2007-08-18 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Biggest PAC in State History
By George Weeks

In politics, money talks. For Michigan Democrats of late, there's no voice quite like Stryker-speak.

Last year, the Coalition for Progress political action committee, creation of the founding family of Kalamazoo's Stryker Corporation medical supply company that has annual revenues of about $3 billion, "became the biggest PAC in Michigan history," according to the bipartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN).

The PAC raised $5,460,000 for the 2006 election cycle and made more than $3 million in independent expenditures for Michigan Democratic candidates. Among them: Dan Scripps of Leelanau County, a bright political comer who came close to upsetting term-limited state Representative Dave Palsrok (R-Manistee) in what is viewed by Inside Michigan Politics newsletter as a tossup district in 2008.

The PAC spent $1.6 million in support of Governor Jennifer Granholm - pitted against the formidable family fortunes of Republican challenger Dick DeVos, who with his wife, Betsy, put $35.5 million into the losing effort. (MCFN dubbed it "more than any Republican candidate in the nation has ever spent from his personal fortune in pursuit of a governorship.")

Last week, Granholm announced Ronda E. Stryker of Portage, "director of the Stryker Corporation," among six appointees to the Michigan Women's Commission.

(Also among them: Donna L. Budnick of Harbor Springs, legislative services attorney of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and Estelle P. Smyth of Escanaba, owner of Ideas Unlimited.)

Stryker, according to Forbes magazine, is one of the richest women in the world and a major contributor to public interest endeavors. Her siblings, also grandchildren of the founder of the Stryker Corporation, were the major 2006 contributors to Coalition for Progress. Brother Jon Stryker of Kalamazoo gave $4,836,000 and sister Pat Stryker of Colorado Springs (a $20 million contributor to Colorado State University in 2003) chipped in $500,000.

There's nothing evil about folks with deep pockets dipping into them for political campaigns. But the watchdog MCFN correctly says that Michigan law should, as does the federal campaign finance law, establish limits on contributions to PACs and political party committees, and establish an aggregate individual contribution limit.

The federal system of limits provides a boundary on the influence a contributor can exercise through campaign contributions, says MCFN Executive Director Rich Robinson, who wisely laments Michigan's "pathetic" disclosure laws.

Robinson revealed Friday that he has been talking with legal, environmental, and League of Women Voters representatives in the Grand Traverse region about convening an October meeting in Traverse City to stoke the burner on campaign finance reform issues.

Senator Michelle Mc- Manus (R-Lake Leelanau), chair of the Senate Campaign and Election Oversight Committee, has been holding hearings around the state on election and campaign reforms.

Don't look for quick action. The Legislature's agenda has been dominated by budget issues. An immediate issue for McManus' committee is how to craft Michigan's 2008 presidential primary process.

George Weeks retired last year after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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