LANSING (DETROIT FREE PRESS) - In an early sign that the 2014 Michigan gubernatorial race could be a financial mismatch, incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder was purchasing TV ad time during the Super Bowl on Tuesday while Democratic challenger Mark Schauer confirmed he is seeking public funds to help finance his campaign into August.
Records reviewed by the Free Press show the Snyder campaign has purchased $400,000 worth of TV air time during the Feb. 2 Super Bowl with Fox affiliate WJBK-TV (Channel 2) and $18,000 worth of ad time on the Lansing Fox affiliate, WSYM-TV (Fox 47). Though full details were not available, the purchases are part of a statewide buy for a 60-second spot.
Schauer, who has yet to appear on statewide TV or book air time in a major market, has applied to the Secretary of State's Office for up to $990,000 in matching public funds for his primary campaign, where he is not expected to face a Democratic opponent. Accepting public funds means Schauer's campaign spending will be capped at $2 million through the Aug. 5 primary.
Snyder has no plans to seek public matching funds in either the primary or general election campaigns, said political adviser Kyle Robertson. That means he will face no limits on how much he raises or spends.
Snyder was almost unknown when he launched his 2010 campaign with a slick TV ad by Hollywood producer Fred Davis. The ad introduced the former certified public accountant as "one tough nerd." Snyder went on to win a five-way Republican primary against better-known opponents and then defeated Democrat Virg Bernero, the mayor of Lansing, in the general election.
Snyder hasn't officially said he will seek a second four-year term, but has given every indication that's the plan. His campaign has already been up with a six-figure statewide TV ad buy in late September, which touted Snyder's record.
Snyder laughed when asked about a Super Bowl TV appearance during a winter-storm related media event Tuesday at a Lansing public works operations center.
"There's a lot of speculation; I would just say stay tuned," Snyder said.
Zack Pohl, a spokesman for Schauer, said Snyder continues to poll with support no higher than in the mid-40s percentile, which he said is bad news for an incumbent.
"The fact that Snyder is airing another political ad just shows that he's in serious trouble," Pohl said.
Pohl said there are no current plans to accept public funding for the Nov. 4 general election, but a final decision has not been made.
The last Democratic gubernatorial candidate to entirely forgo public funding was Southfield attorney Geoffrey Fieger in 1998. However, spending caps were removed from Gov. Jennifer Granholm's 2006 general election campaign and Democratic candidate Bernero's 2010 primary and general election campaigns - despite the fact they accepted public funds - because of the large amount of personal funds spent by their opponents, Republican businessmen Dick DeVos and Snyder.
Granholm did not accept public funds for her 2002 or 2006 primary campaigns.
Snyder, a former computer company executive and venture capitalist who spent close to $6 million of his own money on his 2010 campaign, may not need to draw on personal funds for either the primary or general elections this year, meaning any spending caps would only apply to Schauer.
Snyder and Schauer must file the first fund-raising and spending reports of their campaigns by Jan. 31.
Pohl said he doesn't expect having a spending cap during the primary election period will put Schauer at a disadvantage.
"He's struggling to connect with voters," Pohl said of Snyder.
"We're planning to run an aggressive campaign, and will have the resources we need to win."
Snyder, who has said he is prepared to run on a record which includes eliminating the Michigan Business Tax and improving the state government's finances, is focused on Michigan's comeback and "more and better jobs for working families," Robertson said.
Michigan's public election financing program is financed by voluntary $3 contributions people make through a check-off box on income tax returns.
Former Attorney General Mike Cox, one of the GOP heavyweights Snyder defeated in the 2010 primary, said it's an abuse of the system for Schauer to accept public financing for a primary campaign in which he faces no opponent.
"The point of public financing was to make sure minority voices got heard," Cox said.
Requesting the matching funds also is a sign Schauer is having trouble raising money, Cox said.
Pohl noted Cox accepted public matching funds in his 2010 primary race and said Cox wants different rules for Democrats than for Republicans.
"Unlike Rick Snyder, Mark Schauer isn't a millionaire," Pohl said. "It takes resources for someone to run a successful campaign."
Democratic political consultant Stephanie McLean, president of Lansing-based GMT Strategies, said it makes sense for Schauer to accept public funding in the primary so he can get up on TV as quickly as possible.
"If he doesn't have a Democratic opponent, fine, then he gets to talk about the governor's record," McLean said.
Taking public financing and facing a $2-million spending cap in the general election would likely be a mistake, she said.
Schauer is a former one-term congressman and state lawmaker from Battle Creek.
Snyder recently signed into law a bill passed by the Legislature that doubles campaign contribution limits but leaves unchanged the $2-million spending cap for publicly financed campaigns. That could put publicly financed candidates at a greater disadvantage than they were previously.
Detroit Free Press