Michigan Capitol Confidential broke the story of the city of Ann Arbor
constructing a pricey sculpture while laying off firefighters.
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
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
Fiscal Policy Director Michael LaFaive discusses "Sculpturegate"
on Fox News on July 23, 2010.
More images …
But nothing drives the point home like a water
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
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
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
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
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.
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.