The daily mission of Michigan Capitol Confidential, the Mackinac Center's online news service, is to provide readers with a unique, free-market perspective on politics and policy news. The big-picture mission of MichCapCon.com is for this information to be used to drive substantive and much-needed progress.
Three examples from July show Michigan Capitol Confidential is accomplishing both missions.
A mainstream news narrative throughout the last several years portrays Michigan's local governments and schools as hapless victims of a state economy that can no longer afford to properly fund the vital services that they provide. MichCapCon.com readers have regularly found a more complete picture, in which many of these public bodies are still paying substantially more than what other states are, and what the marketplace will bear, for the same services.
But nothing drives the point home like a water sculpture.
On July 22, MichCapCon.com Senior Capitol Correspondent Tom Gantert wrote an article headlined "The Art of the Ann Arbor City Budget." Gantert reported that while the city of Ann Arbor was laying off firefighters as a way of balancing a budget overspent by several million dollars, the city was also paying $850,000 for a water sculpture to sit outside a new police and courts building.
That morning, the Drudge Report picked up the story and posted a MichCapCon.com link on its page. Over the first two days, more than 272,000 individuals from across the country had checked out the story. Many other national bloggers and news outlets picked it up as well, including Instapundit, Neal Boortz, The American Spectator, USA Today and more.
Mike LaFaive, director of the Mackinac Center's Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative, was quoted in the article, noting that local governments too often "cry poverty" and make threats to "dismiss firefighters" while protecting "golf courses, wave pools and art."
Both the Fox News Channel and the Fox Business Channel interviewed LaFaive about the water sculpture the day after the article appeared. The Fox News Channel had invited the Ann Arbor mayor to appear and provide a counterpoint to LaFaive, but the mayor backed away from the opportunity.
With articles like these, Michigan Capitol Confidential has helped change the terms of debate about whether local governments have enough of the taxpayers' money and whether they spend it wisely. And all local governments are now on notice that somebody is watching and will notice if they try to fund arts and crafts while claiming that they need to cut public safety programs.
Political operatives in Oakland County trying to muck up the state's elections also have MichCapCon.com to worry about. On July 28, with a solid news tip from Michigan blogger Jason Gillman of Traverse City, MichCapCon.com broke a story that has led to a criminal investigation.
Gillman discovered and told MichCapCon.com that the political director of the Oakland County Democratic Party, Jason H. Bauer, appeared to have notarized nine of the statements of identity for candidates seeking ballot access with the mysterious "The Tea Party" political party that sprung up this summer as a result of a secretive petition drive. Gillman noted that his discovery was the "smoking gun" that proved the long suspected belief that the embryonic political party was a manufactured creation of partisan Democrats and not a genuine expression of the grassroots tea party movement taking place in Michigan.
The revelation was picked up by news outlets all over Michigan and across the nation. Gillman appeared on WJR 760AM's Frank Beckmann Show and credited MichCapCon.com and its staff by name for helping him to make his discovery into something that got the attention it deserved.
The office of Oakland County Clerk Ruth Johnson then began investigating and discovered that at least one candidate statement of identity notarized by Bauer may have had the signature of the candidate forged as well. She produced a signed statement from the person who was the supposed candidate declaring no knowledge of his candidacy, no desire to be a candidate, and an eagerness to discover who was using his name and identity improperly.
A grand jury has since been assigned by Oakland County to look into the matter, and Bauer has resigned. In their updates to the mainstream media about the progress of this investigation, both Johnson and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson have credited Michigan Capitol Confidential for pointing everyone in the direction of the wrongdoing.
As a result of other work MichCapCon.com did in July, the public may also get to know exactly how their tax money is allocated to political operatives.
Currently, an exemption in Michigan's Freedom of Information Act allows state lawmakers and the governor's office to conceal the names and salaries of the political appointees that they hire and supervise. MichCapCon.com ran repeated stories exposing this special exemption, noting that while the Legislature is often willing to voluntarily release the information, the governor has refused to do so and invokes the FOIA exemption as cover.
MichCapCon.com put a question to each of the candidates for governor, asking them to state whether they would sign a bill to repeal the exemption, and also whether they would voluntarily turn over the information if asked. Every candidate except House Speaker Andy Dillon answered in the affirmative.
With Dillon's loss to Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero in the August primary election, this means that the nominees for governor from both major parties are on record pledging to repeal the exemption due to pressure from MichCapCon.com's stories.