A complaint filed by the nonprofit Michigan Freedom Fund (MFF) last week alleges that the state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, has taken illegal advantage of a campaign-finance loophole to raise unlawful amounts of cash.
Individuals may contribute up to $7,150 according to state law, though a 1984 administrative ruling by then Michigan Secretary of State Richard Austin (D) sought to negate that limit for candidates facing recalls. Whitmer has relied on that ruling in surpassing the contribution limit.
In the first six months of 2021, Whitmer amassed a towering $8.6 million in her campaign coffers. The contributions the conservative MFF asserts are an illicit total of $3.4 million. They come from more than 150 donors, including about $250,000 each from Governor J.B. Pritzker (D-IL), medical-equipment heiresses Patricia and Ronda Stryker, as well as Mark Bernstein, the brother of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein.
While efforts to recall Whitmer have been launched in the past, MFF’s complaint to the Michigan Secretary of State emphasizes that none of those recall efforts are presently active. The organization insists this is “a condition precedent to any claim to the potential contribution limit exception for recall elections.”
While Michigan law provides no explicit definition of a recall “actively being sought,” MFF has argued that a recall committee must initially secure approval from the State Board of Canvassers of the language of a recall petition and, within 60 days of that approval, collect 1,062,647 signatures from registered voters.
Those conditions aren’t currently met by anyone wishing to recall the governor. MFF furthermore contends that the 1984 ruling itself is illegitimate because the state Constitution bestows the making of Michigan election law solely upon the state legislature.
“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,” MFF Executive Director Tori Sachs said in a statement. “Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson [D] 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.”
Recall petitions have been circulated against every Michigan governor over the last 30 years, though no governor in that time period has used Austin’s 1984 ruling to take contributions that exceeded state limits.
Even former Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer, an attorney, has reportedly said that the ultimate absence of a recall means the governor must “either return the money or contribute it to some other legal purpose.”
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