When it comes to lawmakers sucking down free liquor while sucking up to lobbyists, Michigan legislators have had it made, from a convenience standpoint.
The Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) reported recently that, of the 600 campaign fundraising parties and receptions state officeholders attended in Lansing in 2017, about half occurred within walking distance of the state Capitol – and on days the Legislature was in session.
But the state Senate has taken these logistical perks a step further by reducing the travel time necessary to pocket a lobbyist’s campaign check to a mere elevator ride.
That’s because the Senate completed the unprecedented step last year of moving their offices to a downtown Lansing building that is shared with the prominent Dykema law firm, a key player in the lobbying business with a wide array of special interest clients. They’re neighbors, and in the process they have established a new definition of politicians “cozying up” to special interests
The MIRS news service reported in 2015 that it could find no other state where lawmakers shared an office building with a lobbying firm. At the time, an official with Dykema’s Lansing office, told MIRS that before the move, Dykema was just across the street from the Senate offices. Apparently, that wasn’t good enough.
MCFN, a nonprofit watchdog group, found that those taking advantage of the close quarters in recent weeks included the Michigan Soft Drink Association, the Michigan Retailers Association and the Michigan Grocers Association.
Craig Mauger, MCFN executive director, noted that these gatherings offer free food and drink for lawmakers, even as the supposed reason for the private receptions is to afford industry representatives an opportunity to discuss public policy with their favorite legislators.
Here’s how Mauger described the situation:
Similar to a person owning a condominium in a larger complex, the Senate occupies the first seven floors of the building, which it uses for committee meetings and lawmakers’ offices. Dykema continues to occupy the eighth and ninth floors.
In this setup, there are times when senators are invited to take the short trip from their state-funded offices to the Dykema offices upstairs for private receptions.
… (One of these ninth-floor receptions) featured gourmet cheeses and “sushi made on-site,” according to the invitation. The event also offered craft beers, wines and craft cocktails.
That’s the Michigan Legislature, in action.
When the Senate move toward a new location was underway, one critic, state Rep. Scott Dianda (D-Calumet), described it this way:
“Michigan is poised to become the first state in the nation where duly elected officials will share the same office building as registered lobbyists. It will be one-stop shopping for special interests in Lansing, and this form of cronyism should not be allowed.”
For readers who weren’t paying attention a few years ago as this Lansing drama was playing out, there’s one other aspect of this story that should grab their attention now that the new normal in this buddy-buddy system is abundantly clear.
As the Senate began pursuing office space in a newer building in 2014, their ultimate choice of locations, a high-rise known as the Capitol View, taxpayers footed the bill — an initial purchase price of $51 million.