The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, August 04, 2017

Big money pushing for prevailing wage repeal

By The Building Tradesman

It costs big money to organize and hire people to get 252,000 signatures in a 180-day period.

It costs big money to fight that effort, too.

Citing fundraising numbers submitted to the state, the news service MIRS reported on July 25 that Protect Michigan Taxpayers, the dubiously named group that is gathering petitions to repeal Michigan's Prevailing Wage Act, has brought in $808,000 this year to fund their petition effort. Nearly 80 percent of that money has come from the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan ($635,945). About half of the money raised rolled in between June 17 and July 20.

MIRS reports that $50,000 of the money going to Protect Michigan Taxpayers came from the Silver Bullet Group of Nevada, which was hired in 2015 to collect prevailing wage repeal petition signatures, but notoriously botched the effort. The State Board of Canvassers acknowledged the receipt of 390,000 signatures in that effort, but 161,781 names were found to be duplicates, unregistered voters, or otherwise invalid.

A subsequent lawsuit by the ABC-Michigan against Silver Bullet was settled out of court, with the terms undisclosed. But court documents indicated that the ABC's tab for the 2015 campaign came to $1.35 million spent with Silver Bullet, plus an additional $500,000 spent in connection with campaign. A similar 2016 campaign ended abruptly last summer, with speculation that the billionaire Devos family of Grand Rapids, the primary funders of the first petition drive, turned off the money spigot.

It's not clear if the Devos family has a funding role in this year's prevailing wage repeal drive, but if they do it's at a greatly reduced level. So far, the ABC-Michigan is clearly carrying the financial burden this time on an expensive effort. There was anecdotal information that petition gatherers were earning $5 per signature in the 2015 effort.

If the ABC-Michigan/Protect Michigan Jobs manage to get enough legitimate petition signatures -just north of 252,000 names - the prevailing wage repeal question is then brought before the state Legislature for a vote. Under the state Constitution, if the state Legislature doesn't approve the repeal measure, the question goes onto a statewide ballot.

On the flip side of the all of this, the union-backed group Protect Michigan Jobs has raised about $77,000 this year combating the petition drive.