Deadline Detroit | The messy intersection of dark money and Detroit politics

Clockwise from top left: Duggan, screenshot of an anti-Adams ad from Our Neighborhoods First, Our Neighborhoods First ad for Prop N in 2020, Save Detroit Jobs mailer for an alternative to Prop A in 2016.

Players with ties to a nonprofit that may be investigated by the FBI in an investigation by Detroit City Council are using another secret fund to aid in the re-election of Mayor Mike Duggan.

Save Detroit Jobs, a nonprofit, is affiliated with Councilor Scott Benson and his top advisor, whose homes and offices were raided earlier this month by FBI agents looking for banking, campaign finance, and 501c4 data from welfare organizations, among others. State business records show that two people associated with this group are involved in the nonprofit Our Neighborhoods First, which helped sell voters a new tax last year to help fight the plague of the city, however since then went on to assist Duggan with attack reports against his opponent Anthony Adams. Both are not obliged to disclose their donors.

The ads are the latest in a series of black money and corporate sponsored efforts aimed at defeating progressive initiatives and candidates in Detroit. Adams, who was the deputy mayor of Detroit under Kwame Kilpatrick, has positioned himself politically to the left of Duggan, criticizing what he calls an unjust agenda, giving corporations and developers breaks, and burdening the average person.

The Benson-affiliated Save Detroit Jobs, meanwhile, focused on defeating Prop A, a 2016 grassroots ordinance that would have required significant concessions from developers who would have received urban incentives. It paid Benson Chief of Staff Carol Banks more than $ 11,000, much of it in unspecified refunds, according to campaign funding records the organization appears to have voluntarily submitted.

A dark money group pushing for Detroit’s $ 250 million bond proposal – Prop N – to be passed is paying for ads against mayoral candidate Anthony Adams @ aa4mayor

– Eli Newman (@other_eli) September 14, 2021

Both nonprofits list Impact Church pastor Keenann Knox as their chief executive and were founded by Dykema attorney W. Alan Wilk, who is also an advocate for the Duggan campaign.

Our Neighborhoods First and Duggan campaigns also share a record holder and government compliance officer with Renae Moore from Dykema.

Duggan campaign managers Alexis Wiley, Wilk and Knox did not respond to requests for comment. Benson’s attorney and banks previously declined to speak to The Detroit News and Free Press about Save Detroit Jobs, which first covered their deals.

“People are fed up with the corruption, they’re fed up with the black money PACs, and they have to vote this guy out,” Adams said of Duggan.

The new Our Neighborhoods First attack ad calls for Adams to have moved to the suburbs after stepping down as president of the Detroit School Board in 2011 and for voting on the 2012 Republican presidential primary.

“After almost a decade away from town, Mr. Adams came back to town and bought a house on an island where he’s hard to find,” read the ad that appeared on Facebook about the resident of Jefferson-Chalmers. “Now Mr. Adams wants to lead the town he wanted to leave … but when the chips are down he’ll most likely get them out of town.”

Adams called the ad “full of misrepresentations”. He resigned from the school board after his power was seized by a state-appointed emergency manager and said he cast a strategic “crossover” vote in the 2012 open primary to support then-President Barack Obama’s re-election prospects .

(In an ironic twist, Wilk, who works for the Duggan campaign and who incorporated the group that led the attack, is a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association, which has worked for John Engler, George W. Bush, and other Conservative candidates.)

Although 501c4s such as Our Neighborhoods First are prevented from engaging in “expressive advocacy” such as Lansing, an investigation by state election officials found that no laws were violated.

The mayor has described Adams’ lengthy campaign as “100% hatred and division” and refused to participate in debates against him, a departure from the last two election cycles. He defeated Adams in the primary with ease and didn’t need any additional help until Nov. 2, said Ed Sarpolus, a political advisor and director of Target Insyght polls.

But Sarpolus said the mayor doesn’t need to look bad either, especially in the face of a public corruption investigation involving three councilors who are all his allies.

“I don’t know why Duggan chose this route,” he said. “Anthony Adams won’t win.”

Our Neighborhoods First has a number of ties to the mayor. Alongside Knox, it is headed by current and former Duggan Commissioner Lorna Thomas, chairwoman of the Public Lighting Bureau, and Betty Brooks, a former Detroit Police Commissioner whose term expired in 2020. The mayor goes back to both: Thomas was at Detroit Medical Center when he was chairman of the hospital system and advised him on his first mayoral election in 2012. Duggan has now referred to Brooks as a “dear friend” of “probably 30 years.” Neither of them responded to requests for comment.

Our Neighborhoods First also shares a similar inclusion pattern and structure to another major Prop-A adversary from 2016, Detroit Jobs First. Duggan also opposed the initiative.

Sarpolous said the money for both is likely to come from out of town, corporations and other well-connected sources.

Save Detroit Jobs raised more than $ 100,000 in 2016, campaign funding records show. It came from companies and groups like Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Michigan; Turn Around Wayne County PAC, also owned by Renae Moore, and donors include Clark Hill law firm and Morouns’ Central Transport; and the Shostack Family PAC, which donates mostly Republican candidates and is affiliated with former GOP chairman Bobby Shostack.

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