Michigan Electric Co-op to Solicit PAC Dollars Through Billing Insert

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(Updated on Sept. 7, 2013 at 4 pm. See comment at bottom)

Typically, Democracy Tree doesn’t publish on a Friday evening, but today’s snail mail rendered a shockingly blatant example of what money in politics has come to in our state, and to not write about it would be criminal.

No, it wasn’t a campaign brochure or a political action committee mailer, instead it was Michigan Country Lines magazine — a publication sent to all members of various rural electric cooperatives. Each co-op customizes parts of the monthly for their local readership, including a letter from their particular electric company’s leadership, titled “Manager’s Message”. Of the nine co-ops comprising the Michigan Electric Cooperative Association, one had a very disturbing message for its members.

Cherryland Electric Co-op’s General Manager, Tony Anderson, opted to use his monthly platform to inform his members about some harsh political realities in the form of a letter titled: “Political Action.”

Anderson spins-on in the first six paragraphs with a defensive justification for what he’s about to ask, after which he makes a cheap pitch for residential members to contribute to ACRE — the Action Committee for Rural Electric. Yes, that’s a political action committee he is talking about. While other co-op managers used their space for explanations of rates and services, Cherryland went shamelessly full-on with a political fundraiser.

Here’s a taste of what was in the Manager’s Message:

Yes, we can have the debate about getting into the trenches with other lobbyists who are tossing money about. But, the fact remains that while a letter, phone call or personal visit may be effective, money increases the effectiveness.

I don’t make the “rules” of th [sic] game, but I do have to play in order to benefit all cooperative’s members. Rest assured, your cooperative has never issued a check to any politician.

Soon, Cherryland will give its members an opportunity to contribute to ACRE under a program titled “ACRE Co-op Owners For Political Action.”

Federal regulations allow only residential members to contribute. These eligible members will receive an individual solicitation in an upcoming bill stuffer. This program is completely voluntary, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to our continued success.

As a member-owner of Cherryland Electric, you have the privilege of participating in the political affairs of our cooperative. This includes the unique right to make financial contributions to the campaigns of candidates for political office who support our cooperative.

The ACRE Co-op Owners opportunity will make this unique right both simple and easy. Members who sign up will receive information on legislative initiatives, “owners only” emails, and in-person opportunities to meet with legislators.

ACRE for Owners is just one new way we can put life back into our politics for the good of all.

Wow…which thing is more shocking: What he did say, or what he didn’t? Anderson assured members that their individual co-op never “issued a check” directly to any politician — well, of course not, they are legally bound to syphon the money through a PAC. He refers to giving money to the PAC as an “opportunity”, “unique right” and a “privilege”. He even characterized what he planned to do with the money as a form of playing the game. On top of the bald-faced demand for “voluntary” contributions, the ACRE PAC plans to inform its members, er “owners”, on who and what issues to vote on.

Presumably, both the printing and a pro-rated share of the postage will be paid for fully out of ACRE funds, plus the cost of the magazine article. But, the fact that the solicitation will be delivered in an electric company monthly bill as a “stuffer” means that use of the company’s time, resources and envelopes becomes an in-kind contribution to the PAC. The cooperative is member-owned, and the ethics of this are more than a bit dicey, legal considerations aside of course.

Amy Kerr Hardin

UPDATE: When asked about the PAC solicitation on the Cherryland Electric facebook page, Tony Anderson defended his stand with the following comment:

Cherryland Electric Cooperative Thanks for the comment. The reality that I see is that as long as there are others lobbying congress, your co-op needs to be at the table. The goal of the ACRE group is to give our constituents a more unified voice. Like it or not, affordable & reliable electricity is a special interest that needs a stronger voice. Co-op members are simply being asked on a voluntary basis. What one considers a rant, others may consider to be open and transparent. Your co-op serves 34,000 members. I never expect them all to be happy at the same time but they all deserve to know what is going on. That is the goal of my column every month – Tony Anderson


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