Morouns give Michigan Supreme Court justices maximum donations to campaigns
LANSING -- Four Moroun family members each maxed out their political donations to the only two Michigan Supreme Court justices campaigning for re-election, as certification was pending for their ballot proposal aimed at blocking a new bridge to Canada and preserving their monopoly on toll bridges over the Detroit River.
Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun, his wife Nora, his son Matthew, and Matthew's wife, Lindsay, gave a combined $27,200 in June to the campaigns of Republican-nominated Justices Stephen Markman and Brian Zahra. The $3,400 each of the four Morouns gave to each of the two justices is the maximum allowed under state law.
Two employees of Moroun's Centra Inc. gave another $1,950 to both Markman and Zahra in June, bringing the total donated to the campaigns of both justices by Moroun, his family and his employees to $31,100.
Only justices who face re-election Nov. 6 can accept political donations. The other five justices could not.
On Wednesday, in an opinion written by Zahra and backed by Markman, the Supreme Court ruled that Moroun's proposal to require a statewide vote on a public bridge to Canada, along with two other challenged constitutional amendments, would appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, while a proposal to allow eight more casinos in Michigan would not.
The decision was unanimous except for the rejection of the casino proposal, which was a 4-3 decision with the Republican-nominated justices in the majority.
Moroun opposes a plan backed by Gov. Rick Snyder to build a new public bridge across the Detroit River to Canada, saying the project represents unfair government competition with his private enterprise. Moroun's ballot proposal is intended to require a referendum before the bridge could be built.
Mickey Blashfield, a spokesman for Moroun and his ballot initiative, said there was no court challenge to the bridge ballot proposal in June when the donations were made and no reason to believe one would materialize. If Moroun had a case pending before the Supreme Court at the time of the donations, Blashfield said he would have advised Moroun not to make the donations.
But Jocelyn Benson, an associate law professor at Wayne State University Law School and the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State in 2010, said the money should be returned.
Contacted Saturday at the Republican state convention in Grand Rapids, Markman declined comment. Zahra could not be reached.
Benson said that given the controversy over most ballot proposals and the proposed public bridge to Canada in particular, it was "reasonably foreseeable" in June that Moroun's initiative would be in front of the Michigan Supreme Court. Since neither Markman nor Zahra recused themselves from hearing the case, they should return the campaign money, she said.
Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said the Moroun donations are legal and such "uncomfortable situations" will happen as long as judges are required to raise money for election campaigns.
The form of the bridge petition was approved by the Board of State Canvassers in April. Backers submitted an estimated 596,533 signatures on July 9. A challenge was filed by the group Taxpayers Against Monopolies on Aug. 22. That challenge went quickly from the Board of State Canvassers to the Michigan Court of Appeals to the Michigan Supreme Court.
In June, "there was no opposition and therefore no reason to suspect the Board of Canvassers wouldn't do their job," Blashfield said.
Moroun donated hundreds of thousands to political funds connected to lawmakers during unsuccessful efforts to push approval of the public bridge through the Legislature between 2010 and 2012. Blashfield noted Moroun has donated to Supreme Court justices in the past, with no cases pending.
Records show Moroun maxed out to Justices Robert Young, Jr. and Mary Beth Kelly in 2010 and to former Justice Cliff Taylor in 2008. All three were Republican nominees.http://www.freep.com/article/20120909/NEWS15/309090266/Marouns-give-Michigan-Supreme-Court-justices-maximum-donations-campaigns