July 2, 2019
A new voluntary corporate political disclosure shows that chemical manufacturing giant Dow spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in dark money to support former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s unsuccessful run for governor of Michigan last year. This is the third statewide election in a row in which Dow has spent big to support Schuette, who has deep ties to the company, while keeping its spending secret until long after Election Day.
The disclosure reveals that Dow gave $500,000 in 2018 to the dark money nonprofit Fund for Michigan’s Tomorrows. That group gave $300,000 to the Better Jobs Stronger Families PAC, a Super PAC supporting Bill Schuette’s campaign. Fund for Michigan’s Tomorrows also spent over $900,000 on ads benefiting Schuette in the Republican primary.
Dark money nonprofit groups created under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code like the Fund for Michigan’s Tomorrows are not required to reveal their donors. This opacity keeps the public in the dark about who is behind election spending. Dow disclosed the contribution on a voluntary annual corporate political spending report covering 2018. The form shows the company also gave $250,000 to American Action Network, a dark money nonprofit aligned with House Republicans.
Schuette has a strong personal connection to the company. His father was vice president of Dow and his stepfather was chairman of its board. The company also spent hundreds of thousands to help elect Schuette to attorney general in 2010 and 2014, contributing a total of $600,000 to the Michigan Advocacy Trust, a secret spending group that was organized like a political committee but did not disclose its donors. The company’s continued efforts to help elect a candidate who has a deep personal history with Dow, once ranked the second-largest toxic waste producer in the nation, raise questions about the influence of corporate dark money on politics in a state with fairly high pollution health risk. Dow is headquartered in Michigan, so many of its interests are overseen by the state’s attorney general and governor’s offices.
Michigan state law prevents corporations from contributing directly to candidates, but there are still multiple ways for companies to back political candidates. Along with giving to dark money nonprofits, corporations may also donate to so-called administrative accounts which can help officeholders with non-electoral spending. For example, in 2017 Dow contributed $1,000,000 to the Michigan Republican Party’s administrative account and $75,000 to Schuette’s administrative account. The state Republican Party’s account gave to a Super PAC that contributed to another Super PAC that sent out mailers in opposition of Schuette’s opponent and now-Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and Schuette’s account gave to a Super PAC that ran ads in opposition of Whitmer.
Dow’s latest disclosure also shows that, consistent with a promise made last year, it appears that Dow did not give to America First Policies in 2018. Dow was among three corporations to announce they would no longer donate to the pro-Trump nonprofit following reports of racist comments made by employees of the group.