Spreading his wealth

Manuel J. "Matty" Moroun isn't shy about making campaign contributions — and his enthusiasm has been infectious. His wife, son and daughter-in-law also give generously, as do some of his top employees and at least one of their spouses. They often reach the highest limits for contributions and they give not only during election seasons but between the cycles too, keeping the Moroun name — and presumably its interests — front and center.

Metro Times reviewed campaign finance reports filed with the Wayne County Clerk, the Michigan Secretary of State and the Federal Elections Commission as posted online by the Center for Responsive Politics. The findings: Moroun and his associates have given at least $1.1 million to campaigns and political action committees during the last two decades. And that amount doesn't include direct lobbying expenses.

The collection of reports shows that Moroun money has gone to Detroit City Council members, state lawmakers, political action committees, congressional candidates and U.S. presidents named Bush (The first got $6,000 in 1992, the second got $14,000 between 2000 and 2005. Presidents Clinton and Obama got none, according to the reports.)

Moroun and his associates have given funds to members of congressional committees in charge of transportation funds and oversight.

Money goes to the Republican committees in at least a dozen states including Michigan as well as to the National Republican Committee. Moroun's biggest contributions in Michigan — $60,000 in the last five years — have been to the House Republican Campaign Committee. He's given to five of the seven Republicans in the Michigan congressional delegation and to numerous Republican campaigns for state house, senate, attorney general and secretary of state.

But it also goes to most of the Detroit City Council, four Democratic congressional representatives from southeast Michigan, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Michigan's U.S. senators, both Democrats. (Sen. Carl Levin has received $10,500 since 1995 and Debbie Stabenow has gotten $30,384 since 2000.)

In 2001, the Morouns started "bundling" their contributions, with several family members making large donations to a single candidate or political action committee in a short period of time — sometimes the same day. It's a donation strategy that analysts say increases the impact of the money. 

Moroun money also has gone to out-of-state members of Congress on key committees related to the bridge. In September Moroun and his son gave a combined total of $3,000 to Rep. John Olver (D-Mass.) who is chairman of the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. Since September, Moroun and Michael Blashfield, director of government relations at Central Transport, have given $2,500 to Rep. James Oberstar (R-Minn.), who is the chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Another $1,000 went to Rep. John Mica, (R-Florida), a member of the house committee. The contribution to Mica was made four days before the U.S. Department of Transportation granted a request from the Detroit International Bridge Co., which Moroun owns, for a deadline extension to obtain state approval needed for about $788 million in bonds for a second span.

Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, says Moroun's intentions are clear.

"He has invested to get a certain sort of public policy and he's been pretty successful in getting the return he wanted," he says. "It's a fairly typical giving pattern for a big roller in metro Detroit with Republican leanings but needing to keep the door open with Democrats, especially local ones."

Also among the highlights of the Metro Times review:

• Since 1997, Moroun contributions have totaled at least $196,575 in state elections. Money has gone to candidates' election committees and independent political action committees. The biggest check was $20,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee from Moroun himself. The smallest was $75 to the Michigan Republican Party from Thomas Christ, an employee of Moroun's Warren-based Central Transport Co.

• Moroun money has spread across levels of Michigan government. Recipients include Govs. John Engler and Jennifer Granholm, legislators, judges and political action committees.

• Moroun contributions to federal candidates and committees total at least $857,622 since 1989. The donations reached a high of $163,750 in 2008 from the Moroun family and employees. 

• U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Detroit) has received $60,933 from Moroun, his family and his employees since 1996. That's the highest in the Michigan congressional delegation and the most for a single recipient of Moroun money. The Ambassador Bridge is in her district. In June 2003, Carolyn Kilpatrick received $8,000 from four different Morouns. Ten months later, she received another $9,500 from the four family members and two of Moroun's employees. The $16,100 she received last summer came as Moroun was hoping funding would be blocked for a second proposed bridge to be built downriver from his Ambassador Bridge.

• Kilpatrick's son, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, received $3,400 from both Moroun and his son, Matthew Moroun, in 2006 and $3,400 from Matthew Moroun in 2001. 

• All of the sitting Detroit City Council members except Kwame Kenyatta received money during or since the 2005 election. Albert Tinsley-Talabi got the lowest amount, $250, while Ken Cockrel received the most — $4,000. Barbara-Rose Collins, JoAnn Watson and Sheila Cockrel received $3,500, $2,700 and $2,450 respectively between 2005 and 2007.

• When Collins ran for Congress in 1990, Moroun and his wife contributed $1,000 toward the effort. They also gave her $4,000 between 1992 and 1994.

• In 2000, Moroun family members gave $90,000 to Republican PACs, state committees and the National Republican Senate Campaign Committee in a two-week period.

• In May 2001 and again in December 2004, Moroun family members gave $10,000 to then-Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Bloomfield Twp.). In June 2001, they contributed $10,000 to Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Brighton).

• In March 2002, the family gave $6,000 to Stabenow. Fourteen months later, she received another $11,634, and in September 2005, she received $10,500.

Sandra Svoboda is a Metro Times staff writer. Contact her at 313-202-8015 or [email protected]
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