Report: 'Unlock Michigan' COVID Group Funded by Dark Money

A previously undisclosed non-profit linked to the utility company DTE Energy — Michigan's largest energy utility — reportedly funded the group behind the effort to repeal Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's COVID lockdowns and restrictions, known as Unlock Michigan.

Report: 'Unlock Michigan' COVID Group Funded by Dark Money
Image credit: Rex/Shutterstock [via The Guardian]

Facts

  • A previously undisclosed non-profit linked to the utility company DTE Energy — Michigan's largest energy utility — reportedly funded the group behind the effort to repeal Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's COVID lockdowns and restrictions, known as Unlock Michigan.
  • Records from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) show the non-profit donated $100k in 2020 via another dark money non-profit that was reportedly the primary funder of the group.
  • Though the company in 2020 denied making such a donation, state and federal records show it was likely funneled from Michigan Energy First non-profit — run by DTE executives — to the other non-profit, Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility (MCFR).
  • MCFR reportedly donated roughly $660k of the $765k Unlock Michigan raised by late July 2020 and about $1.8M of the $2.8M raised by the year's end. As they shared attorneys, Unlock Michigan and MCFR spent a combined $85k in legal fees, according to state campaign finance records.
  • Energy industry observers say such companies were generally opposed to lockdowns due to being required to suspend shutoffs to financially struggling customers.
  • After Whitmer's policies were successfully implemented in 2020 and received approval ratings of up to 60%, the Unlock Michigan campaign was ultimately successful in 2021, with the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945 — used to impose the rules — later repealed.

Sources: Guardian, and Planet Detroit.

Narratives

  • Democratic narrative, as provided by Guardian. In an effort to protect its bottom line and shareholders, DTE irresponsibly joined the revolt against Michigan's COVID measures, undermining the state's safety protocols and calling attention to the need to regulate the monopoly utility's political spending. However, despite the opposition, Gov. Whitmer's COVID policies saved thousands of lives.
  • Republican narrative, as provided by Michigan Capitol Confidential. The funder behind the anti-lockdown movement is completely irrelevant given the fact Gov. Whitmer's policies never actually worked. Michigan had higher COVID death rates than its Midwestern counterparts despite having implemented far harsher restrictions. And lest we forget about her nursing home debacle, which led to one of the nation's worst death rates among the elderly.