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Commentary: Staggering sums for the ballot proposals

There’s a week to go before election day, and increasingly, the big story, or maybe big scandal in Michigan is the six ballot proposals -- and the vast amounts of money being poured into them.

Michigan, whatever the pundits pretend, is not really a swing state, not anymore. It’s been months since either President Obama or Governor Romney has visited the state. This year’s race for the U.S. Senate is virtually invisible. But the ballot proposals are anything but.  And unbelievable amounts of money have been spent on them.

According to the Gongwer News Service, at least $141 million has been spent by major committees and special interest groups supporting or fighting the proposals.

And that was with nearly two weeks left to go. Nearly $50 million has been spent by groups on both sides of Proposal 2, the amendment that would make collective bargaining for both private sector and public sector workers a constitutional right.

Simply put, the unions really want this; business groups don’t. There’s also been a vast amount spent -- more than $35 million -- by groups both for and against Proposal 3, which would put a renewable energy mandate in the Michigan Constitution, and again, neither side there is close to done yet.

However, the most astonishing figure is what one man -- or really, one man, his wife and child-- have spent on an amendment which is designed only to protect their private monopoly interest.

That man is, of course, Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun. The Morouns are billionaires, and they have poured more than $31 million into an effort to getting voters to pass Proposal 6, which would require a statewide vote before any new international bridge or tunnel is ever built. That money has been spent mainly for a flood of TV commercials which, as Canada’s Consul General told me yesterday, are nothing but lies.

For a Canadian diplomat to accuse a U.S. citizen of lying is virtually unheard of, and Roy Norton has a far more impressive pedigree than most. But he told me the Moroun ads insult his country, and added, “The Morouns are so pathological in their lying that they no longer submit their lies to any kind of logic test.“

For what it is worth, various independent analyses of the bridge ads pretty much agree with Norton about their content. But the Morouns are putting their money where their interests are. And while virtually every corporation wants a new bridge, they aren’t paying as much to try and persuade the public. Opponents of Proposal 6 have raised less than a million dollars, and General Motors has supplied more than half of that.  They seem to be relying on the press to do the job for them. But it isn’t clear the media are having that effect.

Two weeks from now, the presidential campaign will be over, and we will be trying to figure how to live with what the voters did on these proposals. One thing is clear. If Matty Moroun’s attempt to preserve his monopoly becomes law, it will be proof that our state constitution and our democracy can be bought by a billionaire.

And that may be the scariest thing of all.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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