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Old or New? Bridges Split Michigan GOP

Mary Knox Merrill/Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images
The busy Ambassador Bridge, connecting Detroit to Canada, is owned by billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who has donated thousands to Members such as Rep. Candice Miller who oppose the construction of another proposed bridge between the two cities, one of the busiest trade crossings in North America.

The state ultimately sued Moroun, and an appeals court sent him to jail briefly in January.

Snyder has made the construction of another bridge across the Detroit River a priority. But many members of the Michigan Congressional delegation object.

In a May 2008 letter, Reps. Tim Walberg (R) and Thaddeus McCotter (R) and then-Reps. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D) and Joe Knollenberg (R) also registered their opposition, raising concerns about costs and the displacement of people living in neighborhoods where the new bridge would connect to Detroit.

Less than two months later, Moroun and his associates donated thousands to both Walberg and McCotter. In July 2008, the Moroun network donated $14,000 to Walberg. In June 2008, Moroun and associates donated almost $5,000 to McCotter.

Walberg is the single largest recipient of donations from Moroun’s network in the 2012 cycle, receiving almost $83,000, according to the CREW report.

CREW calculated donations from Moroun’s network as donations from Moroun, his family and several executives from companies he owns.

In a statement, Miller said her concerns stem from her advocacy for a bridge in her district that she feels has been overshadowed by the interest in the proposed NITC. “My advocacy has always been for the Blue Water Bridge, which is located in my district and is the second busiest international crossing on the northern border. ... The Blue Water Bridge has been the stepchild during this bridge controversy. These are concerns I have stated publicly, loudly, and often.”

McCotter’s and Walberg’s offices did not return requests for comment.

An interesting twist in the story is the involvement of Michigan tea party groups, including the local chapter of Americans for Prosperity and a Hillsdale College professor who operates a political consultancy firm.

The Michigan AFP chapter set up a website, detroitbridgeinfo.com, with a slogan: “There’s no such thing as a free bridge.” The site claims taxpayers will be on the hook for the cost of the bridge and that it isn’t needed since traffic is likely to decrease in light of Detroit’s difficult economic situation.

However, the Canadian government has offered to cover Michigan’s construction costs and recoup the money through toll revenue.

Gary Wolfram, an economics professor at Hillsdale College, a Michigan school known for its politically conservative faculty, conducted a study that Michigan AFP and others cited as reason not to build the second bridge.

The study was released by Hillsdale Policy Group, a consultancy group operated by Wolfram. It argued that traffic projections used to support the new bridge were inaccurate.

Moroun has also ramped up a lobbying and public relations campaign, including hiring Dick Morris, the Fox News commentator and former aide to President Bill Clinton, as a spokesman for his campaign against the bridge.

“The saga of the proposed bridge ... shows how a single determined billionaire can wield disproportionate influence over the public agenda,” the CREW report says.

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