DETROIT (WXYZ) — As lawmakers consider holding hearings about the power outages dating back to last week, some are wondering how Lansing legislators can hold accountable one of their most reliable campaign contributors.
Utilities like DTE Energy are some of the most powerful industries in Lansing, dolling out money to the very lawmakers who regulate them. A report last year from the Energy and Policy Institute found that 93% of Michigan’s lawmakers received money from DTE at some point throughout their career.
Matt Marsden, a former aide in the Michigan Senate, said he views donations like DTE’s as not just campaign contributions.
“For them, it’s an investment,” Marsden said. “If they’re getting what they want in terms of policy changes or lack thereof... by the Legislature, then it’s a wise investment on their part.”
As of last year, the top recipient of DTE donations was Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at more than $235,000, which were made throughout her career in public office.
Aric Nesbitt, the top Republican in the Senate, took in just under $70,000 while Jim Ananich, who led Senate Democrats, took in almost the same.
More than $53,000 went to Ken Horn, a Republican who sat on House and Senate energy committees. Another $50,000 went to Donna Lasinski, the former top Democrat in the House.
“I will say that that’s a bipartisan list of individual donors, so they’re definitely giving to both sides,” Marsden said.
But a substantial amount of money spent to benefit DTE is spent in the dark through funds like Michigan Energy First — a 501(c)4 group run by DTE executives. How donations are made does not need to be disclosed.
In 2020 alone, the fund reported more than $7.1 million spent, at least in part, on educating lawmakers.
“The advantage of having that is it doesn’t blare ‘DTE contribution’ right next to the guy’s name that you gave the money to,” Marsden said.
Marsden says it’s unclear what role, if any, the campaign contributions DTE and other utilities have spread across Lansing will play as legislators consider whether to hold hearings into the widespread outages.
If he was advising DTE, Marsden would suggest that the utility curtail their dark money spending, at least in the near term.
“Maybe it would be a good idea for DTE to suspend the dark money contributions and spend a year reinvesting that money into the infrastructure,” he said.
“$7.1 million. Is that going to fix the infrastructure problem in the state in terms of DTE? No, but it’s not a small drop in the bucket.”
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at email@example.com or at (248) 827-9466.