The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 10, 2017

ABC’s front group turns in excess signatures to overturn prevailing wage

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor



Protecting Michigan Taxpayers - the inaccurately named group for those pushing prevailing wage repeal in Michigan - has spent about $1.2 million this year for the petition drive that would overturn the law.

And their spending has apparently helped them reach their target: they turned in more than 380,000 petition signatures to the state Board of Canvassers on Nov. 3, well more than the 252,000 signatures that were needed to place a prevailing wage repeal legislation before the state Legislature. 

If enough valid signatures are counted during a state review process, the repeal question goes to a vote before the state House and Senate. If majorities in both the House and Senate adopt the petition language - which could take place as early as January - then the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 is repealed. Gov. Snyder, who would veto the measure, does not have a say in this scenario.

If the Legislature does not vote in favor of the petition language, the repeal language would go on the statewide ballot for a vote next November.

"We have believed throughout this process that they would get more than enough signatures - they hired a reputable firm this time to circulate the petitions," said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council President Steve Claywell. "Now for us, the next step is we're going to do our due diligence and get copies of the petitions, do our own evaluation along with our legal counsel, and make sure that they have submitted enough valid signatures."

Getting sufficient signatures isn't exactly a slam dunk. A 2015 petition drive by the Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, the front group for the Associated Builders and Contractors - Michigan, was rejected by the state Board of Canvassers because some 40 percent of the signatures that were collected belonged to ineligible voters, were duplicates, or were otherwise invalid. Later in court, the ABC sought $1.8 million in damages from the company they hired to collect the signatures in 2015, and won an undisclosed settlement in the case. This year they hired a much more reputable Michigan-based firm to collect the signatures.

It's an expensive process to get signatures, and according to the news service MIRS, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers seems to have plenty of it. State-required filing information from PMT says the group had $132,591 on hand as of Oct. 25.  The money spent so far this year is in the ballpark of what the ABC and their financial backers from the Devos family of Grand Rapids and others spent in 2015 for the failed petition drive to overturn the prevailing wage law. 

The Devos family, led by past unsuccessful Michigan gubernatorial candidate Dick Devos and his wife Betsy, have been contributors to many conservative causes either individually or through the Michigan Freedom Fund. They were major backers of the 2015 prevailing wage repeal drive as well as the imposition of the state's right-to-work law, which the Legislature approved in 2012. 

It's unclear so far this year if they have donated money toward the prevailing wage repeal effort. Although, according to OpenSecrets.org, "eight Devos family members together gave an even $2 million to Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, a group that sought (unsuccessfully) in 2015 to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law, which ensures state construction contractors pay union wages to their workers."

In January, Betsy Devos, during her successful nomination to Secretary of Education in the Trump Administration, told the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions that “If I’m confirmed I will not be involved or engaged in political contributions and my husband will not be either." 

Apparently, her husband couldn't help himself. The Detroit News reported late last month that state disclosure records show Dick DeVos contributed $3,000 to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee on April 20 and $2,000 to the Friends of West Michigan Business Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce PAC on July 24.

Family spokesman Greg McNeilly told The News that the pledge to suspend contributions was focused on direct giving to federal candidates, and that Dick DeVos is “open” — but not committed — to supporting state-level political candidates this cycle.

Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, a liberal advocacy group, said it doesn't come as any surprise that "the agenda and pet projects of Betsy Devos would still be getting funded despite her rising to the position of Education Secretary. And it's no secret that the Devos family has long held the agenda that they want a state where workers are paid less, and that can be seen in their support of the repeal of the Michigan prevailing wage law."