Mother Jones exposé shows how Michigan’s right to work law was bought and paid for by the DeVos family

The best politicians, laws and elections money can buy

Mother Jones’ Andrew Kroll has an incredible piece out this week showing the growing and pervasive influence of the DeVos family in Michigan and national politics. Although much of what he reveals in his piece has been long suspected, he brings to light details about how the passage of Michigan’s right to work law on one day in December 2012 was the result of spending by the DeVos family, guarantees that Republicans would protected by DeVos money from primary challenges or recall attempts, and coercion by members of the DeVos family in the form of primary threats for Republicans that didn’t obey orders.

The piece is titled “Meet the New Kochs: The DeVos Clan’s Plan to Defund the Left” and it’s a sobering read.

Michigan was seen as a test ground for what the Devos family was attempting to do with its money. The main actor was Dick DeVos who, despite spending $35 million of his family’s money in 2006, still lost by double digits to Jennifer Granholm. After licking his wounds for several years and regrouping, DeVos turned his attention to attacking the main supporters of the Democratic Party: labor unions.

Passing right-to-work in Michigan was more than a policy victory. It was a major score for Republicans who have long sought to weaken the Democratic Party by attacking its sources of funding and organizing muscle. “Michigan big labor literally controls one of the major political parties,” Dick DeVos said last January. “I’m not suggesting they have influence; I’m saying they hold total dominance, command, and control.” So DeVos and his allies hit labor—and the Democratic Party—where it hurt: their bank accounts. By attacking their opponents’ revenue stream, they could help put Michigan into play for the GOP heading into the 2016 presidential race—as it was more than three decades earlier, when the state’s Reagan Democrats were key to winning the White House.

More broadly, the Michigan fight has given hope—and a road map—to conservatives across the country working to cripple organized labor and defund the left. Whereas party activists had for years viewed right-to-work as a pipe dream, a determined and very wealthy family, putting in place all the elements of a classic political campaign, was able to move the needle in a matter of months. “Michigan is Stalingrad, man,” one prominent conservative activist told me. “It’s where the battle will be won or lost.”

After spending tens of millions of dollars defeating Proposal 2 in November 2012, a ballot initiative that would have given constitutional protection to collective bargaining, DeVos wasn’t ready to stop.

A week before the lame duck began, on November 20, 2012, DeVos and Weiser met with members of the Republican leadership, business bigwigs, and the top legislative aide to Gov. Snyder to pitch their plan. Snyder and the GOP leadership were still queasy, fearing a Wisconsin-style revolt; where the protesters in Madison had ultimately failed, in Michigan, a labor stronghold, they just might prevail. “There was all this hemming and hawing,” says one attendee.

“What do you guys need to hear?” DeVos asked. “What can we do to help?”

A plan, came the reply. A plan showing that they wouldn’t be committing political suicide.

McNeilly, DeVos’ political adviser, took the floor. He had recently formed a nonprofit group called the Michigan Freedom Fund. It planned to raise millions from the DeVos family and other donors. McNeilly’s pollster was testing DeVos’ “freedom-to-work” message statewide. And the group was plotting a statewide ad blitz to give air cover to Republican lawmakers. By the time McNeilly finished talking, the mood in the room had shifted from apprehensive to optimistic. “Sitting around that table we felt like a rag-tag grouping of Davids, in the historic Biblical story,” DeVos told me in an email. “But we left the table committed to doing our best to change Michigan’s future for the better.” […]

In early December, the Michigan Freedom Fund unleashed its freedom-to-work ad campaign. The group also enlisted GOP pollster and communications guru Frank Luntz to help craft a message “bible” that was distributed to every Republican state lawmaker for use during the right-to-work push; it included prepackaged answers to potential questions from constituents and reporters.

As Kroll shows, this spending, combined with assurances that compliant Republicans would be protected and disobedient Republicans would be punished with the immense wealth of the DeVos family, led to the anti-union legislation being voted on, passed, and signed into law in a single day without one minute of public hearings or testimony.

While Kroll’s investigative piece is sobering and potentially demoralizing, it should serve as a wake-up call and a rallying point for anyone of any political party to work toward electoral change that will help to diminish the influence of wealthy individuals and their ability to sway our elections. A first step in that direction is to replace the “purchased” Republicans now under the control of Dick DeVos and his family. This would include our corporatist governor Rick Snyder who recently signed legislation to allow for MORE secret money in our elections, clearly another action taken at the bidding of his corporate benefactors.

November 2014 will be a crucial test for Michigan. It will be a true test of whether we can overcome Republican gerrymandering and vast corporate and corporatist money and actually effect change in the face of those crippling factors.

When I was training canvassers during the 2012 campaign, one of the things I told my volunteers was that our canvass packs were the only thing that could overcome Super PACs. I still believe this today. The one thing we have on our side is people power; the ability to go out, talk to our friends, families, and neighbors, and help them to understand that much of what they see and hear is a distorted message aimed at benefitting corporations and wealthy individuals at the expense of everyone else.

Read Kroll’s piece. Become incensed. And then channel that anger into action by getting involved in the 2014 election TODAY. Work as though the future of our state depends on it.

Because it does.

[CC image credit: DonkeyHotey | Flickr]

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  • Westside Guy

    Like the article but I’m bothered by the term corporatist to describe Rick Snyder. A corporatist is someone that supports corporatism, a distinct political theory currently existing in Scandinavia that comes from tbeLatin word corpus, or body, as opposed to corporation. Rick Snyder may be many things but he is not a corporatist.

    • http://eclectablog.com Eclectablog

      Rick Snyder is the poster child for corporatism in terms of his work to turn Michigan into a corporatocracy.

      Here’s the Merriam-Webster definition which fits him to a tee: cor·po·rat·ism *noun* ˈkȯr-p(ə-)rə-ˌti-zəm
      The organization of a society into industrial and professional corporationsserving as organs of political representation and exercising control over persons and activities within their jurisdiction

      • Westside Guy

        Using that definition, I would agree. However, the definition itself is flawed (in that it is incomplete and doesn’t adequately explain that true corporatism places labor at the same table as business). Here is a better one: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/138442/corporatism

  • Linnaeus

    I don’t know if I can see any turnaround in the short term. It’s going to be very hard to roll back what the Republicans have done. I don’t say this to be demoralizing, just that Michigan Democrats may have to think more in terms of long-term change. “Right-to-work” might become a permanent fixture and labor and its allies may need to adjust their organizing strategies accordingly.

    • Michael Ombry

      We need to be unashamed of our roots, why unions need to exist and in calling out those who control Michigan from behind the scenes for their own benefit. Some kind of balance is best between workers, employers and government power.

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  • samiam

    Hang them all from the nearest tree! Devos need to be put in his place. The people of Michigan sure are getting the shaft. The regular folks will soon be serfs.

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