Update Nov 3, 2022: New information surfaced since this blog post was published on Sunday, October 30, 2022.
An amendment to the campaign finance report for the ballot question committee “Ann Arbor Climate Voters” was posted to the County’s website on Monday, October 31, 2022. This amendment includes significant in-kind contributions of $21,416 from a State-level ballot question committee named “Our Water Our Democracy.“
An officially stamped submission date of Monday, October 31, 2022 has a penned-in correction suggesting that the amendment was submitted on Saturday, October 29, 2022. In my original post below, a list of top donors to the Ann Arbor Climate Voters ballot question committee does not include these $21,416 of in-kind contributions.
Campaign finance records for the State-level “Our Water Our Democracy” ballot question committee can be found here:
Reports filed on July 21st and October 27th, 2022 show that “Our Water Our Democracy” was funded with $301,000 from the State level PAC “MI League of Conservation Voters”. Late contribution reports filed on November 1st and 2nd, 2022 show that the PAC gave an additional $20,000 to “Our Water Our Democracy”. How this additional money was spent is not required to be filed until after Election day.
Additionally, on Wednesday, November 2, 2022, Ryan Stanton of MLIve published a story about all the money spent promoting the climate millage. He reports that over $130,000 has been spent promoting this millage. His article also includes precise explanation of how much the City spent sending postcards about this millage.
From the article:
Counting both cash and in-kind contributions, more than $106,000 has been poured into the campaign, while the city separately has spent over $31,000 informing voters about the proposal. That includes $19,906 for 55,754 mailers the city sent out in September and $11,758 for followup mailers the city sent to 27,259 voters in October, officials said.
. . .
The city sent out followup mailers about the tax in October because the city was getting a lot of questions from people about how the tax would help them in their sustainability quest and what would change in the first few years if the tax is approved, said Missy Stults, the city’s sustainability director.
To streamline costs, the followup postcards were mailed only to registered voters, not people citywide, Stults said, noting the city website also was updated with more information.”
My original post from Sunday Oct 30, 2022 is below:
This week in advance of the November general election, Washtenaw County published campaign finance reports for local political campaigns, including both candidate and ballot question committees. These reports highlight and underline how large amounts of money from a relatively small number of people and entities play a role in defining our local democracy.
On December 6, 2021, City Council approved a ballot question for a Climate Action Millage as well as a “resolution of intent” for how proceeds would be spent. Ahead of that meeting, I shared concerns I had heard from local environmental advocates: both the tax and the spending plan was haphazard and poorly considered.
I wrote at the time: “After Mayor Taylor’s announcement, I heard from residents who pointed out where and how they had personally invested in climate action, the money they had spent installing solar panels and/or geothermal systems, and their deep commitment to the issue. They opposed the idea of a millage, not because they lacked interest in climate action (or didn’t believe in science) but because they did not believe that the Mayor’s proposal for a local tax was likely to result in any meaningful results. Their argument: this proposal for a tax is unlikely to achieve anything like what needs to happen to address this issue.”
Before the 12/6/21 Council meeting, I talked to members of the City’s Energy Commission and Environmental commission about the resolution of intent. Based on those conversations, I moved to postpone the resolution so that it could be discussed and considered at both those Commissions. A few of my Council colleagues were also interested in pinning down more details around how this money would be spent, but Mayor Taylor and his allies opposed any further discussion or consideration. They argued against any delay:
CM Eyer: “It’s been said that we have tons of time. We don’t. We have, you know, a matter of several months to communicate to residents what this millage will pay for and, you know, the tangible benefits that they will receive from it. This postponement means we lose two to three months of that education and as somebody who has worked on a lot of millage campaigns, that’s really significant. So this really feels like reinventing the wheel”
CM Disch: “I think that [the Energy commission] would probably prefer that we all have what we need to get started with messaging which is going to be the big thing that we need to be doing.”
“EDUCATION” AND “MESSAGING”
Campaign finance reports released this week add important context to what was said in Council discussion of the resolution of intent.
A ballot question committee was organized to promote the Climate Action Millage: “Ann Arbor Climate Voters.” That committee first filed documents of organization with the County on February 28, 2022. Since that date, it has received $84,759.87 from 83 individuals/entities. About 70% of the total ($58,925.40) came from just eleven:
$10,162.70 Linh Song
$10,000 Ashley Oberheide
$8,500 Christopher Taylor for Mayor
$5,162.70 Donald Hicks
$5,000 Paul Freedman
$5,000 Recycle Ann Arbor
$5,000 Thomas Porter
$4,100 Kristine Olsson
$2,000 Paul Dimond
$2,000 Adam Goodman
$2,000 Bruce Wallace
What did all this money buy? The three biggest expenditures are below:
$17,891.84 Campaign consulting (Alex Yerkey)
$13,694.98 Mailers (Allied Union Services)
$11,891.62 Website and marketing (Orange Egg Advertising)
An additional $4,500 was paid to Blue Path Solutions, the same campaign consultants who organized the campaigns of five council candidates and the Mayor this past summer.
This is a link to the Ann Arbor Climate Voters campaign finance reports:
You can find the website for Ann Arbor Climate Voters here:
On 9/29/22, Ryan Stanton of MLive published a story about public money spent promoting the Climate Action Millage
From that article:
“The city spent $19,906 sending out 55,754 mailers to voters this week, said Lisa Wondrash, city communications director.”
“Public officials are allowed to use taxpayer resources to provide information to voters about ballot proposals as long as they don’t expressly advocate for or against, and the city’s mailers walk that line, stopping short of asking voters to vote yes.
The city has no other plans for paid media or advertising for the proposal, Wondrash said”
I contacted Mr. Stanton this week to ask if there was any plan to update the information in this article, since the City actually mailed out a second postcard this month (my household received it on October 18). Assuming similar cost as the first mailer, it’s likely that the City has now spent nearly $40,000 on “education” around this millage.
In the last week, Ryan Stanton published two articles on the topic of how members of Council are adapting personal lifestyles to reduce carbon footprint and conform to recommendations for climate action. Stanton’s first article included explanation of how Council members have installed solar panels and electric fireplaces to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
The second article was an update on the first one, with additional explanation about the $1.2 million house that Mayor Christopher Taylor bought in July 2021.
From that second article:
“Home electrification — in tandem with a shift to renewable energy — is a key strategy of Ann Arbor’s A2Zero plan, and Mayor Christopher Taylor is a leading proponent of it and the city’s proposed 20-year tax to fund it.
But while the mayor has installed solar panels at his house and indicated he intends to replace his gas appliances with electric ones, city building permit records show he and his wife installed a new gas fireplace and a new gas line for it this year.”
“Taylor said the remodeled house he purchased is basically a brand-new house and came with new gas appliances, including a gas stove, water heater and furnace, but he had the option to put in an electric dryer and did so. While that’s been the extent of his electrification work so far, it’s his plan to eventually replace the gas appliances, he said in an interview last week about what he’s doing to personally meet the city’s A2Zero goals, not mentioning he installed a gas fireplace.”
“An electric fireplace isn’t really a fireplace,” he said of his reasons for not considering that option.”
I’ve seen a lot of online discussion about this second article, including arguments from people who say that a gas fireplace is insignificant and that the story should not have been published in the first place. I disagree with anyone who thinks that these conversations are not worth having. A person’s circumstances certainly dictate how hard or easy any of these choices are. Many people in Ann Arbor might not have the money to invest in solar panels and most people in Ann Arbor don’t have the luxury of buying a million dollar home.
Every candidate for local office is required to file paperwork with the County, reporting campaign donations and expenses. Candidates who competed in the most recent August primaries were required to submit reports in July. From those reports, we learned that Christopher Taylor and the winning candidates in the three contested Ward primaries (Wards 1, 4, and 5) collected over $200,000. The Mayor and the candidates he endorsed spent an unprecedented amount of money to win these elections.
County campaign finance reports released this week include information from two Taylor-endorsed candidates who did not compete in primary elections this August and were not required to file campaign finance reports before now. Ayesha Ghazi Edwin (Ward 3) and Chris Watson (Ward 2) are candidates for City Council who had no opposition in primaries this August and will run unopposed in the November 8 general election. Their campaign finance reports are remarkable. In uncontested races without any opposition, Edwin collected over $35,000 and Watson collected over $14,000.
This January, Ayesha Ghazi Edwin filed to run for City Council in Ward 3. April 19th was the filing deadline for any other candidate who might have opposed her. By April 20, Edwin had raised over $30,000. Most of her campaign funds — nearly $27,000 — came from outside the City of Ann Arbor. In total, residents of Ward 3 donated less than $2,000 to Edwin but she received $3,000 from the PAC for Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters (July 27). Running unopposed and without any primary or general election opponent, she somehow spent $7,000 on “campaign consulting” from Blue Path Solutions.
Link to Edwin campaign finance report:
On April 19th, Chris Watson announced that he was running for City Council in Ward 2. In the two days before incumbent Kathy Griswold filed to take her name off of the ballot (4/21), Watson collected $10,000; just ten households provided over $8,000. In total, residents of Ward 2 donated about $3600 to Watson’s campaign and, like Edwin, he received $3,000 from the PAC for Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters (July 14). His candidacy began (and will result in his election) without any opposition, yet he somehow spent $3,750 on “campaign consulting” from Blue Path Solutions.
Link to Watson campaign finance report:
I cannot even imagine the purpose of all this money associated with uncontested elections. However, it is certainly a warning to anyone in the future who might dare to run for any local office without the benefit of the Taylor political machine.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Local community conversation around political candidates and policy decisions has turned into something very different than grassroots advocacy or substantive debate of priorities, goals, and strategies. The task of leveraging public support for both candidates and policy has been reduced to a simple game of money: coordinating a network of affluent people most able to fund expensive promotion activities, or what my Council colleagues call “education” and “messaging.” Decisions that should be subject to thoughtful consideration have been reduced to soundbites, buzz words, and advertising.
A small number of people perpetuate this system and embrace it as a legitimate tool for steering our democracy. There is little evidence that a majority of residents embrace this model, because few people have any idea what is happening. Moving forward, it remains to be seen if our educated community continues to accept a system of governance where both decision-makers and direct decisions are primarily driven by money and marketing.