Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a vaccine mobilization event in Detroit on July 12, 2021. (Andrew Harnik / AP)
Kipp Jones July 29, 2021 at 10:52am
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan is being sued by a conservative group that has alleged Whitmer broke campaign finance laws by accepting massive donations which exceed those allowed by law.
The Michigan Freedom Fund, which says its mission is to fight for conservative policies on behalf of Michigan’s taxpayers, sued Whitmer for accepting more than the minimum of $7,150 from individual donors after viewing her re-election campaign’s financial disclosure from this calendar year.
The group said Whitmer has accepted $3.4 million in what it called “illegal contributions” from at least 154 individual donors.
Those donors reportedly include the brother of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein — a man named Mark Bernstein — who is said to have given Whitmer $257,150.
The Michigan Freedom Fund also said Whitmer took money from Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, wealthy sisters Patricia and Ronda Stryker and Stacy Schuster of Samson Energy. Each reportedly gave the governor $250,000.
The Detroit News reported Whitmer’s campaign’s decision to accept such large donations is being defended by her allies, who claim that since there have been numerous efforts to recall the governor, the state’s campaign finance law no longer applies.
Per the outlet, then-Michigan Secretary of State Richard Austin decided in 1983 that candidates who are in office and facing a recall do not have to return donations that exceed the maximum amount allowed by law.
Whitmer’s campaign spokesman Mark Fisk defended accepting the donations, citing a wish to recall the governor by numerous conservative groups.
“There have been nearly 30 recall petitions filed against Gov. Whitmer, and governors under threat of recall are exempt from campaign finance limits to defend themselves,” Fisk told the outlet.
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However, none of those recall petitions have gained any serious traction. The Michigan Freedom Fund contended that the governor is in violation of the law.
“Gov. Whitmer is deliberately breaking the law and illegally taking millions of dollars from Hollywood and New York elites because she believes the rules don’t apply to her,” Tori Sachs, the executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, said in a statement released by the group.
“Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson must compel Whitmer to immediately return the illegal contributions and issue sanctions on Whitmer’s campaign that are aligned with the most egregious illegal scheme in violation of contribution limits in Michigan history,” Sachs added.
Benson, a Democrat, has not responded to the group’s lawsuit against Whitmer.
The Michigan Freedom Fund in 2019 accused Benson of refusing to enforce campaign finance laws after Whitmer allies were charged with breaking finance laws to benefit then-candidate Whitmer in 2018.
Whitmer ally Mark Burton, a lobbyist, was accused of using a political advocacy group called Build a Better Michigan to “illegally coordinate” with Whitmer’s 2018 campaign, per the group. Burton was appointed Whitmer’s chief strategist after the election.
Sachs, in a conversation with the Washington Examiner, unloaded on Whitmer’s most recent financial activities, which were equated to an “illegal scheme,” and slammed those who are citing a simple wish to recall her as a defense for her alleged breaking of campaign finance laws.
“The Whitmer Campaign has admitted to these wholesale violations of the MCFA’s contribution limitations, but claims that there is an exception to contribution limits for officeholders facing a recall election,” Sachs told the Examiner.
“However, even if such an exception exists, there is no recall of Governor Whitmer currently being actively sought, a condition precedent to any claim to the potential contribution limit exception for recall elections. Whitmer’s illegal scheme is inconsistent with the text and purpose of the [Michigan Campaign Finance Act], absurd, unfair, and could not have been intended by the Legislature.”
Sachs and the conservative advocacy group called for the Michigan Bureau of Elections to “swiftly investigate the Whitmer Campaign’s illegal circumvention of the contribution limits.”