Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The 616 PAC Gets Away with It

Back in the Fall of 2012 I filed a campaign finance complaint against the 616 PAC for what looked to me violations of Michigan campaign finance law.

Let me recap the situation. I ran for the Grand Rapids Township Board in 2012 and was soundly defeated.  The four incumbent trustees  (Rusty Merchant, Lee Van Popering, Robert Roth, and David Van Dyke ) did no campaigning  that I saw (excepting Lee Van Popering, who exhumed a few old campaign signs and placed some of them illegally on Township property).  The 616 PAC spent around $6,500 on three mailings supporting the four incumbents. After the election was over, three of the four trustees made contributions to the 616 PAC that nicely covered the cost of the mailings.  The question was whether the 616 PAC had acted in complete independence of the candidates, and whether their contributions to the 616 PAC after the election were simply generous contributions of public-spirited citizens, or whether they were made to cover expenses that they knew the 616 PAC had incurred on their behalf.

The complaint dragged on interminably, finally finding a resolution this week after I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Bureau of Elections in Lansing, which provided lots of interesting documents.  The Bureau’s letter:

To my mind, the Bureau rather gullibly accepted the specious arguments of the 616 PAC’s capable attorney, Eric Doster, who specializes in campaign finance (and whose bill, according to documents filed on the state website, was $1500). An example of his effective work is this e-mail:

Then there is this interesting affidavit by Bill Jackson, head of the 616 PAC: 

In reading Mr. Jackson’s statement and  Mr. Doster’s e-mail (and other documents in the file), I am reminded of Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, who was able to believe six impossible things before breakfast. Let us review what it takes to believe their argument:

  1. Although Bill Jackson, head of the 616 PAC, worked for Trustee Rusty Merchant’s law firm, they never discussed the fact that the 616 PAC was going to be working to re-elect the incumbents.  Note the language in Mr. Jackson’s affidavit: “The Mailings were disseminated without the direction or control of any of the candidates endorsed in the Mailings.” It does not say "without knowledge.”  One gets the feeling of “a wink and a nod,” and language suggested by a good lawyer.
  2. The incumbents collectively agreed it was unnecessary to do any significant campaigning themselves, even though two other candidates were running. The incumbents made sworn statements that they “did not coordinate with the PAC in any mailings or campaign activity.” They had no expectation that anyone else would take up their cause and were pleasantly surprised when mailings promoting their candidacies appeared unexpectedly in their mailboxes.
  3. The incumbents, after the election, contributed out of the goodness of their hearts what the 616 PAC had spent on their behalf, without any prior knowledge of the 616 PAC's activities, or any obligation to do so.  As Mr. Doster observes, there might have been others who were willing to donate to the 616 PAC, so the PAC may just have sent the mailings in hopes that contributions would come in from other sources. If anyone believes this, I have some shares in a diamond mine in Bolivia I will sell to you cheaply.
In sum, this has been a most interesting experience, although I am left with less confidence in the integrity of a variety of people than I had before it began.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What’s New with the 616 PAC?

Four years ago I filed a complaint with the Michigan State Department of Elections alleging campaign violations from Bill Jackson’s 616 PAC.  You can see the details in earlier posts.

For some reason, the process has been remarkably slow.  I occasionally ask the department for an update, but they generally don’t respond.  However, interesting documents keep showing up on the Department of Elections web site. 

A March 30, 2016 letter from the state pointed out suspicious elements in previous 616 PAC filings:

The 616 PAC’s response was to refile and claim the expenses were other than I think they were.

We shall see if anything ever happens to resolve my complaint.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What Can One Say about the 616 PAC?

It’s hard to know what to say about the 616 PAC. Bill Jackson who runs it seems remarkably lackadaisical about following the law.  My complaint, evidenced in earlier posts, is still outstanding.  I’ve talked with the Michigan Department of Elections staff, who inform me that he simply doesn’t respond to their requests.

Meanwhile, he also doesn’t believe in filing the necessary reports.  Recently he received a second notice with a $250 penalty for failing to file timely reports.

The whole electronic paper trail is available on the state Department of Elections site.

I shall report on any future developments.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Mills of Government Grind Slowly for the 616 PAC

Back in 2012 I made an interesting but entirely unsuccessful effort to win a seat on the Grand Rapids Township Board.  The incumbent trustees found it unnecessary to do much, if any campaigning, depending on the work of Bill Jackson’s 616 PAC.

At the time it seemed to me that the 616 PAC had played rather flexibly with the Michigan campaign finance laws, providing more support for the incumbent trustees than was legally allowed.  I filed a complaint with the Bureau of Elections in Lansing.

They have moved with less than haste to resolve my concern. Initially they assessed a $500 penalty for filing an inaccurate financial report.

About ten months after my initial complaint the Bureau of Elections made a preliminary conclusion that the 616 PAC had indeed violated the law, sending this letter dated September 20, 2013:

In the eleven months since, nothing further has happened.  I check with the Bureau of Elections occasionally, and am told that “the conciliation process is still ongoing” with regards to my complaint.

I’ll post the eventual outcome of my complaint, whatever it may be.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

616 PAC Doesn’t Pay Its Fine

Back on March 4, I noted that the 616 PAC, which supported the re-election of the four incumbent Grand Rapids Township Trustees in the August 2012 primary, had been assessed a $500 penalty for faulty reporting.  It doesn’t seem to have paid the penalty, as indicated by the following document from the Michigan Secretary of State’s web site.

The 616 PAC is also in some difficulty for possibly spending more than the legally permissible amount to support the election of the incumbent trustees — but I will post on that once the Department of Elections has reached its conclusions.

Friday, May 10, 2013

New Grand Rapids Township Website — A Start

Eight months later than originally announced, the new Grand Rapids Township website is finally up.  Jan Holst has the details in a Cadence article.

It is an improvement over the previous version, but so far the changes are largely cosmetic.  For example, the agendas and minutes are still so lacking in detail as to be useless.  Take a look at the website for neighboring Cascade Township.   The full documents township boards and commissions will consider are available on-line before the meetings.  I hope that once the Grand Rapids Township staff gets used to the new site, they will take the simple steps that will help citizens know what is going on.

Monday, March 4, 2013

616 PAC Fined $500 for Campaign Violation

The 616 Political Action Committee, which funded the campaigns of the incumbent trustees in the August 2012 Grand Rapids Township primary has been fined $500 for faulty campaign reporting.  The PAC is headed by Bill Jackson, a lobbyist who works for Trustee Rusty Merchant’s law firm.

All of the various documents are available on the Secretary of State web site:

I also think that the committee overspent the legally permitted amount in funding the campaign. Funneling campaign contributions through a PAC allowed the incumbents to make larger contributions to the PAC than they would have been able to spend on their individual campaigns.  Under the law, a candidate who spends less than $1,000 is exempt from most reporting requirements.  Several of the incumbents donated more than that amount to the 616 PAC. Clicking on the document below will bring up a full-sized copy.