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Mailers, commercials, and donations: Tracking all the money in local elections is not easy

Nov 6, 2017

Tomorrow is Election Day. It’s an off-year election focused on local issues and races.

But there’s still plenty of money being poured into these local races – dark money, out-of-state money, and SuperPAC money.

Craig Mauger from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network joined Stateside today to explain how money influences our local politics, and how hard it can be to track that money.

The "money story" surrounding Flint's mayoral election, for instance, is "that there are groups that are kind of outside, independent of the candidates – at least on the surface they are independent of the candidates – that are in some ways trying to influence the election there."

Mauger says the Michigan Campaign Finance Network is trying to figure out who's behind these groups and what their intentions are.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network obtained a mailer that was sent out to at least part of Flint from “a complete mystery group.”

“We don’t have information on who this group is, but it’s a mailer that’s going out telling people, ‘You signed a petition to recall Mayor Weaver for signing a garbage contract. That’s what her job is, negotiating contracts,’” Mauger said. “And it’s this mailer that, I think, is supposed to be supportive of Mayor Weaver, and it’s from a group that we can’t identify, at least from this mailer that we received.”

Another mailer opposes candidate Scott Kincaid. Among other accusations, it says he “poisoned you with the Flint River water.” The mailer comes from a group called “stupidregisteredvoter.com.”

“The sad thing about a lot of these groups, especially in local races, is that it takes time to figure out who they are,” Mauger said. “Sometimes documents become available later. We’re able to dig out more information, you know, over an extended period of time. These groups often know that and send these types of attacks out late in the election cycle so it’s harder to get this information of who’s behind them, in many cases, in a prompt manner.”

Listen above to learn about the Capitol City Leadership Project, a group putting out ads in Lansing. You’ll also hear why the mayoral race in Detroit is “really a crucial one for people to watch if they’re interested in the subject of money in politics.”

Going into tomorrow’s election, Mauger also offered a bit of advice:

“I tell people all the time: If you get a mailer, you see a TV ad, it is always important to also take into consideration who is communicating the message to you,” Mauger said.

He said who paid for the information is just as important as its content.

“We’ve seen situations where it appeared, you know, potentially Democratic funding sources were sending out mailers to Republican ... likely voters criticizing Republican candidates for not being Republican enough,” he said. “So these things could go in so many different directions that it’s critically important that people at least look and see, you know, can I tell where the dollars behind this mailer came from?”

Scroll through some example mailers collected by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network above.

If you receive a mysterious mailer, you can pass it along to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network here.

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