News Column

Dow Donated 'Dark Money' to Quash Bargaining Rights

January 16, 2014

Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press

Jan. 16--WASHINGTON -- Dow Chemical, based in Midland with operations and employees around the globe, gave $2 million to a Michigan nonprofit that, in 2012, helped defeat a referendum to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution, a public research organization said in a newly released investigation.

The Center for Public Integrity issued a report on Wednesday about "dark" money -- corporate contributions to nonprofits that often are engaged in political activity that can be obscured under the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision of 2010.

The investigation found that while corporations never began bankrolling elections openly, as some predicted, they still quietly pumped about $185 million into the coffers of politically active nonprofits in a single year. That money flowed to more than 1,000 groups -- on both ends of the political spectrum -- which vastly increased their participation in elections.

The center based its research on voluntary disclosures filed by the 300 largest companies in the U.S., as ranked by Fortune magazine. Among the largest donors were energy giant Exelon, health insurer WellPoint, and technology titan Microsoft.

Looking specifically at the 2012 election in Michigan, the center found that Dow "was one of several corporations that helped finance a web of so-called 'social welfare' nonprofits and trade associations" that helped defeat the push by labor to protect collective bargaining rights.

Dow, according to the report, revealed in filings posted on its corporate website that it gave $2 million to the Michigan Alliance for Business Growth and $611,700 to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce in 2012. Those groups, in turn, were identified as the two top underwriters of the opposition to Proposal 2.

It was only after the referendum was defeated that Gov. Rick Snyder embraced legislation -- since passed -- that prohibited contracts that required union membership as a condition of employment, turning Michigan, where the modern labor movement began, into a right-to-work state.

According to tax records, Dow was the Michigan Alliance for Business Growth's largest donor. Contacted by the Center for Public Integrity, Dow Chemical spokeswoman Sara Steele declined to discuss the company's support for the groups.

The center's report also noted state Attorney General Bill Schuette's link to a nonprofit called On Duty for Michigan. It raised $202,000 in 2010, in part from contributions from companies including Monsanto, Aetna and CVS Caremark. A spokesman for the nonprofit said it takes part in "issue advocacy" and will begin identifying donors this year.

A group called the Michigan Jobs and Labor Foundation -- described as pro-Republican by the center -- raised about $630,000 for "polling and educational seminars," some of which came from Exelon, Aetna, Pfizer and others.

Aetna and CVS Caremark also gave to the pro-Democratic Michigan Quality of Life Fund, a nonprofit originally set up by then-state legislator Kwame Kilpatrick. The group reportedly helps Democrats by hosting forums and leadership retreats, the center said.

In late December, Snyder signed legislation that continues to protect the secrecy of donors who give to groups that fund so-called issue ads. Rich Robinson, president of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, told the center for its report that it was an indication that the "direction of the Legislature is going the wrong way right now in terms of transparency."

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(c)2014 the Detroit Free Press

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

Original headline: Report: Dow donated to nonprofit that helped defeat collective bargaining rights


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