LANSING, Mich.—A conservative, pro-Constitution organization based in western Michigan has asked the state’s Bureau of Elections to investigate what it alleges is the “illegal circumvention” of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.
The group, called the “Michigan Freedom Fund,” points to Democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s own recently filed campaign finance report, which shows that, since January 2021, her reelection committee accepted a total of $3.4 million via 154 donations, all of which exceeded the $7,150 statutory cap on individual donations.
In a statement, Whitmer spokesperson Mark Fisk called Michigan Freedom’s allegations “bogus” and “without merit.”
The Whitmer campaign asserts that it is all perfectly legal under a decades-old determination by former Michigan Secretary of State Richard Austin. In addressing the issue in the mid-1980s, Austin recognized that, as groups seeking to recall a state elected official had no cap on the amount of money their individual contributors could donate, it was “unfair” that an elected official defending against a recall effort should have his donors limited by a cap, so he removed the limits.
It remains unclear why Austin did not instead impose a similar donation cap on pro-recall donors.
Whitmer has been subject to dozens of recall efforts over her use of the emergency powers of the governor to lock the state down during the pandemic, and for not abiding by her own rules. Whitmer aroused the ire of the public by her highly publicized marching in a large political demonstration, visiting a crowded tavern, and flying to Florida during the height of the lockdowns.
Through it all, Whitmer’s approval ratings continue to hover at around 50 percent and she is setting records for non-election year fundraising, taking full advantage of the so-called “Austin loophole.”
Michigan Freedom Fund’s executive director, Victoria Sachs, said in a statement, “Gov. Whitmer is deliberately breaking the law and taking millions of dollars from Hollywood and New York elites because she believes the rules don’t apply to her.”
In a six-page complaint to the Bureau of Elections dated July 28, Michigan Freedom Fund asserts that the Michigan Secretary of State had no authority to amend the clear intent of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act by his decision to do away with the limits, and that any changes must be passed by the legislature.
The complaint also asserts that many of Whitmer’s largest donations that exceeded the $7,150 limit were accepted by the campaign after the last of the recall efforts fizzled out by failing to obtain the required 1,062,647 valid registered voter signatures within the statutory 60-day time frame. The complaint contends that, for these donations, there was no recall campaign in existence to defend against.
This is disputed by the Whitmer campaign, which asserts that several recall efforts are still wending their way through the state election bureaucracy or are being appealed in the courts.
Fisk has also insisted that the unspent campaign donations received throughout the recall process can be legally diverted to pay for regular campaign expenses, a claim that some election law experts and many Republicans disagree with.