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Dana Nessel: Michigan GOP fundraisers engaged in 'dark money scheme'

Dana Nessel stands at a podium
Attorney General Dana Nessel announced charges against two Republican political fundraisers for their roles in a “dark money scheme.” (Bridge file photo)
  • Two Republican political fundraisers are facing potential jail time after being charged with violations of Michigan campaign finance laws 
  • Unlock Michigan, a ballot initiative, aimed to repeal a law Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to issue statewide lockdowns amid the pandemic
  • Former Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey will not face criminal charges

Two longtime Republican fundraisers face a combined two felonies and three misdemeanors for their alleged roles in a “dark money scheme” that shielded the names of donors to a campaign seeking to diminish Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

That’s according to Attorney General Dana Nessel, who announced charges Wednesday against Heather Lombardini, 47, of Okemos and Sandy Baxter, 63, of Caledonia.

Together, the two helped raise money through the nonprofit organizations Michigan! My Michigan and Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility for the ballot proposal known as Unlock Michigan during 2020 and 2021. 

Unlock sought to repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to issue statewide lockdowns in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. The campaign was ultimately successful with the group gathering enough signatures to get the proposal on the ballot.

But a then-Republican Legislature didn’t let the move make it to voters, instead enacting Unlock as written in July of 2021. That came after the Michigan Supreme Court had already declared the decades-old law as unconstitutional.


Under Michigan campaign finance law, ballot proposal committees like Unlock are legally required to identify their donors. Nonprofits, such as Michigan! My Michigan and Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility do not have that same requirement.

This meant Unlock – which received more than $2.6 million from the two groups, collectively – could sidestep campaign finance disclosure requirements.


Nessel told reporters Wednesday the issue wasn’t so much that the organizations raised money for the Unlock effort, but that “the mechanism used here to raise the money was done so secretly, without the transparency and sunshine that’s required by the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.”

Lombardini, a co-founder of the Lansing-based consulting firm Bright Spark Strategies, faces three misdemeanor charges associated with violating Michigan campaign finance law and one felony charge of uttering and publishing, for falsely signing an affidavit.

Baxter has been charged with one 15-year felony for perjury after lying under oath during testimony with the Attorney General’s Office. 

An investigation into the pair arose after Bob LaBrant, a Lansing-based elections lawyer and formerly with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, filed a complaint with Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in 2020 regarding the nonprofits.

In it, he alleged then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey utilized the organizations to circumvent Michigan’s disclosure requirements and raise millions of dark money dollars – at least $2.4 million, as detailed in his initial complaint – from secret donors.


“The purpose of my complaint was to try and get some disclosure into who those folks were,” LaBrant told Bridge on Wednesday, “and perhaps that information will come out as this continues to go through the judicial process. …This has been a long road.”

Shirkey, a Republican and now out of political office, won’t be charged in the investigation. This, despite the fact Nessel said Shirkey and Lombardini solicited and received contributions for the Unlock Michigan campaign.

But Shirkey’s name does not appear as the candidate, treasurer or person responsible for record keeping associated with the nonprofits, Nessel said, meaning he cannot be charged with failure to file campaign finance statements.

She then called on the Legislature to strengthen Michigan campaign finance law, which she referred to as being “fundamentally broken.”

“There must be harsher penalties for violations of the MCFA,” Nessel said. “I’m not talking about one time mistakes or small errors, but willful, insidious, repeated violations …Organizations like Michigan, My Michigan! and Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, with large cash flows, are simply not deterred by a paltry $1,000 fine.”

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