The “Protect Working Families” website lists nearly 600 businesses as Proposal 2 supporters. While that is only a fraction of the 176,303 businesses operating in Michigan, the ones Proposal 2 has managed to recruit come with big question marks.
Of the business owners the Center has been able to reach, dozens were unaware of the listing. Worse, several businesses appear on the list even after their owners said they explicitly told recruiters “no.”
That was the case for the Kilwins franchise in Petoskey. The website placed Kilwins’ logo at the top of its “Main Street Supporters” webpage after a store owner told a Proposal 2 recruiter he would not support the cause. When the Mackinac Center alerted Kilwins of the listing, the company took immediate steps to have the logo removed.
Businesses are typically reluctant to support political causes for fear of alienating customers. They may also be non-profits that are restricted from such endorsements. The director of Ann Arbor’s Youth Empowerment Project was upset when she learned her organization was on the list. She is in the process of having it removed.
Our investigation found that one-third of the businesses are in Macomb County. The Mackinac Center enlisted the help of investigative reporters from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity to visit those businesses. Most of them are small, family-owned shops. Many recall signing a paper from a Proposal 2 recruiter, but had difficulty recalling what Proposal 2 is actually about. One owner was angered when told Proposal 2 would amend the state constitution. There were several business owners on the list who don’t recall signing anything. Businesses supporting Proposal 2 said they did so at the request of union friends, relatives and customers.
The investigation attempted to contact every business on the list, but many were unreachable. One business’s website brings up a page for Occupy Ypsilanti. Another went out of business last year. Calls found more businesses listed without their knowledge, including a pediatric practice, a financial planner whose clients include union members and a furniture manufacturer.
Given the fact that the Michigan Chamber of Commerce opposes Proposal 2, it is understandable why Proposal 2 backers had to go to such lengths to lure business supporters. A downloadable “toolkit” on the “Protect Working Families” website tells recruiters to emphasize the union customer base in the community.
The toolkit also tells recruiters that union members “… are deeply committed to the businesses that support working families and Main Street Michigan.”
When the delicate issue of local chambers of commerce support comes up, recruiters are told to say they are not aware of the chamber’s position.
On Tuesday, Proposal 2 backers released a letter to Gov. Snyder from Michigan’s Democratic Congressional delegation urging him to “condemn the false ad campaign attacking Proposal 2.” Representatives of “Protect Working Families” have yet to answer questions about its Main Street campaign.
Anne Schieber is senior investigative analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.