Rep. Eileen Kowall, R-White Lake, called me today about our recent blogging regarding the House Republicans recommended by the Michigan Education Association and how that may be impacting whether the House can pass the $218 per pupil reduction -- a seemingly reasonable 3 percent trimming of the state's School Aid budget. Rep. Kowall wanted to clarify that while she did receive a recommendation from the state's most powerful public school employee union in the most recent election (2008), she did not do anything to ask for it other than answer their candidate question sheets and express a willingness to speak with them after getting into office. And furthermore, she proceeded to point out that she has never received money from the MEA's political action committee.
Fair enough. I checked, and she's right -- no money. And while on this subject, I'll also point out that I could find no record of an MEA donation to Rep. Gail Haines, R-Lake Angelus, who also appears as one of the 11 current House Republicans on the endorsement list. As for the rest... at some point during the last two election cycles, each of the other nine recommended candidates have received campaign cash, in addition to the 2008 recommendation.
But, they're not the only ones. Twenty-seven Republicans in both chambers of the legislature have receieved at least $100 from the MEA since Jan. 1, 2006 (roughly one year before the 2006 election.) This includes 20 current members of the House and 7 members of the Senate. Their names, total donations for this time period, and hyperlinks to same are listed below.
It's also interesting to note that many of those receiving this money were also identified as those unwilling to put up "YES" votes the first time the $218 per-pupil cut was brought up for a vote in the House last week. And, given that they appear to have received no money, it is perhaps just as telling to note that both Haines and Kowall were NOT identified with the group failing to take the stand on cuts.
Unfortunately, the voting board was cleared when it was obvious that the first attempt would not produce a passing vote. And then later in the day, nearly the whole chamber got cold feet when it came time to officially count the second vote. Only two lawmakers were willing to stand up and go on the record as willing to make the $218 per pupil cut: Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, and Justin Amash, R-Kentwood. This is despite the fact that the Senate was willing to deliver the cut, on a strictly partisan vote, with all Republicans going on record in support of the reduction.
None of this is to allege that taking MEA money automatically implies a reluctance to make cuts to the School Aid Fund. As noted above, the seven senators listed below all voted for the cut. And the largest single recipient of the MEA cash over the last two years appears to have been the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.
So, taking their money doesn't always mean doing their bidding. (And, of course, taking their money in exchange for promising to do their bidding walks perilously close to the kind of quid-pro-quo that gets prosecutors very nosey.) And besides those seven senators, there's ample evidence of Lansing politicians who take lots of MEA money and then don't live up to the sort of voting record that the union might want.
An example is Martin Griffin, D-Jackson. He got $4,000 from the MEA on August 23, 2006. But after this, he was one of just nine House Democrats to buck his party and vote in favor of allowing more competition against the MEA's favored teacher health benefit plan. He's now running in a special election for a state Senate seat and -- so far as I could tell -- has not gotten a single nickel from the MEA since that health insurance vote.
By contrast, his opponent is Republican Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek. Nofs was one of just four House Republicans who voted to protect the union's health insurance plan from competition. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Nofs campaign received $5,600 from the MEA's political action committees this summer.
The list of those current Republican lawmakers who were found to have accepted donations from the MEA's political action committee over the last two years is noted below. The total amount located is listed first:
$1,125 - Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, R-Bellaire (House Republican Leader) -- $125 on 5/21/08, $1,000 to "Forward Michigan" on 6/3/09 (Forward MI is a PAC that donates to Republicans, and the name of the treasurer matches that of an employee in Rep. Elsenheimer's office.)