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Who's behind the group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility?

Bob LaBrant
The Sterling Group
Bob LaBrant

The former longtime head of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s political action group is now raising money for the group challenging the petition to repeal the state’s emergency manager law.

For 34 years Bob LaBrant raised money for the Michigan chamber’s political action committee. Last month he retired; about the same time the ballot committee known as Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility was formed by LaBrant, Michigan Bankers Association Vice President of Government Relations John Llewellyn, and Larry Meyer; former CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association who's now retired.  

A chamber press release about LaBrant’s retirementsays:

LaBrant says his most satisfying legal victory occurred in 2008 when a Michigan Chamber-assembled "legal dream team" successfully blocked a highly partisan petition drive that would have made over 42 changes to Michigan's Constitution (Reform Michigan Government Now!). The courts ruled the proposal ineligible and off the November 2008 statewide ballot. In 2010, LaBrant successfully led the ballot question committee that opposed Proposal 1 – the call for a new constitutional convention, which was defeated with a 66% "No" vote.

LaBrant says the committee wants to stop voters from deciding the fate of Michigan’s controversial emergency manager law during the November election.  He hopes the state board of canvassers will throw out the signed petitions based on a technicality. 

“The bottom line is that we want to defeat this particular proposal. If we can defeat it by it not being placed on the November ballot, we consider that a great victory,” LaBrant said. He says the committee would be prepared to fight the proposal if it made it to the November ballot. "Whether that’s radio, television campaign that’s what this ballot committee is prepared to do," LaBrant said. 

LaBrant is now working part time as senior counsel to republican public relations firm The Sterling Corporation.

The Sterling Corporation also runs the group known as Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility; a separate, federal non-profit, that can lobby or raise money for political campaigns. Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility is a state ballot committee. LaBrant says he was unaware of the similar names when Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility was founded.

Conflict of interest?

One of the people in line to decide the fate of the referendum to challenge Michigan’s emergency manager law has a business interest in the outcome. Jeffrey Timmer is a partner at The Sterling Corporation and is a board member on the State Board of Canvassers. That’s the bipartisan panel that will make the initial ruling on the challenge.

Sterling also shares a business address with the Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility.

Timmer is a Republican who was appointed to the board in 2009. State elections officials say it is up to him to decide whether he has a conflict and should recuse himself. Timmer did not immediately return phone calls.

If Timmer does recuse himself, that would leave the board with two Democrats and only one Republican.

The Board of Canvassers is supposed to meet later this month to decide whether the referendum goes on the November ballot. It could ask for an extension. Its decision could be challenged in court.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.