Billionaires Battle to Fill Seat Held by Senate Armed Services Chairman

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Terri Lynn Land saw the battle of the billionaires coming and foretold the future while addressing a fundraising event in Michigan.

“Now this is a whole new world, after, some of you remember, the Citizens United lawsuit,” Land is heard to say on the video given to the Huffington Post. “It changed the dynamics of politics, restricted the parties, but it let individuals and others raise resources. Our campaign has talked to a lot of those folks, and they are committed to Michigan.”

The Republican, running against Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) in the 2014 election to replace retiring Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), head of the Armed Services Committee, could not have hit any nail more accurately on the head.

The Land and Peters campaigns are a testament to her foresight.

Americans for Prosperity, a group founded by the Koch brothers, has been backing Land with issue-oriented ad campaigns, while California businessman Tom Steyer is doing the same for Peters.

The first salvo in the war of the battling billionaires in Michigan was fired on behalf of Land while thick winter ice still covered the Great Lakes.

One of the strongest attack ads against Peters was released March 25 by Americans for Prosperity.

The political action committee described it as a “massive ad buy” featuring the story of Shannon Wendt, who said her family’s insurance plan was canceled due to the Affordable Care Act, despite assurances from Peters and President Obama that they would be able to keep their plan.

Losing her family’s insurance plan was “like a kick in the gut,” Wendt said. “A vote for Obamacare is a vote that’s destroying the middle class.”

The ad ran for several weeks throughout Michigan on TV and digital platforms with a budget of more than $1.5 million.

Another conservative PAC, Ending Spending — this one run by Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade — also weighed in on the Michigan Senate race in May with an ad criticizing Peters for his opposition to the Keystone pipeline, and also tying him to Steyer.

“The Keystone pipeline would create thousands of jobs, but Congressman Gary Peters opposes Keystone and supports big government regulations that hurt jobs and Michigan’s economy,” the narrator says. “Instead of creating jobs, Peters votes in Congress to benefit special interests like Tom Steyer, a billionaire who has made ‘killing Keystone a non-negotiable demand.’ Steyer even profited from one of Keystone’s competitors. Tell Gary Peters to stand up to special interests and work to create Michigan jobs.”

However, even though she obviously has big bankrolls backing her from out of state, Land is not about to relinquish her criticism of a “radical billionaire” backing the Peters campaign for the U.S. Senate in Michigan.

The Job Killers web ad released by the Land campaign on May 22 highlights Peters’ record of voting for what the Land campaign calls “a radical environmental agenda,” including cap-and-trade — and Peters’ relationship with Steyer.

Heather Swift, the spokeswoman for the Land campaign, said if  Peters is successful in passing “his radical agenda,” it would mean the end of 96,000 blue-collar jobs in Michigan.

She also said middle-class families and manufacturers would be forced to pay 20 cents more per gallon to fill up their car and 40 percent more to heat their homes in the winter.

“But what more should voters expect from the congressman who sold Michigan jobs for a California billionaire’s support?” said Swift.

It is true that Peters should expect to benefit from billionaire Steyer’s commitment to environmentalism and fighting climate change with government action.

Steyer plans to spend at least $50 million of his own money through his  super PAC, NextGen Climate, to target Republicans, like Land, who he says doubt climate change science.

Steyer’s investment is expected to be matched by other environmentalists for a $100 million advertising sweep across seven states, including Michigan.

An FEC filing in late May showed NextGen Climate had already spent $53,000 on advertising targeting Land.

Steyer, who made his money by running a hedge fund, is also going after former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who is running for Senate in New Hampshire, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott. In Iowa, the group is going to talk about how climate change is affecting farmers.

Like Steyer, who has promised his NextGen Climate PAC won’t just hit their TV airwaves and Internet for a few weeks and run back home, Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, is committed to staying on the ground in Michigan and even knocking on a few doors.

He said the Michigan chapter of Americans for Prosperity would be carrying out grassroots organizing and participating in other aspects of the campaign such as phone banking and door-to-door visits to explain how they feel Obamacare is hurting middle-class families in Michigan.

“Although politicians like Gary Peters don’t want to hear it, there are millions of middle-class Americans just like Shannon (Wendt) who have had their peace of mind, healthcare and family budget upended by Obamacare,” Phillips said.

“We are committed to standing up for victims who have been hurt by this law and are forced to deal with higher insurance costs, lost access to doctors, and broken promises.”

The latest ad to hit the Internet and TVs across the state actually concentrates on the battle of the billionaires in the Michigan Senate race.

Steyer’s NextGen Climate PAC turned Land’s “Really?” ad — in which she wondered how anyone could accuse her of waging a war against women — against her May 9 as the PAC unveiled an Internet ad that capsulizes the battle between billionaires in Michigan.

NextGen Climate’s video team spliced their own ad into Land’s “Really?” ad to ask the question, “Which Senate candidate really works for billionaire special interests?”

In this ad, the PAC bankrolled by one billionaire, Tom Steyer, calls on Land to disavow her association with the billionaire Koch brothers and “publicly oppose their efforts to bring their dirty tar sands byproducts back to Michigan.”