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Eight of nine Michigan candidates haven’t returned excess money from Trump PAC

President Donald Trump's political action committee has donated money to state Legislature candidates who support his false claims that he won the 2020 election in Michigan. (Bridge file photo)
  • Save America PAC gave $5,000 apiece in December to nine Trump-endorsed candidates.
  • The donations exceeded lawful contribution limits and must be returned.
  • Eight of the nine candidates have not returned excess contributions, latest campaign filings show.

LANSING — Eight of nine Republicans endorsed by Donald Trump for state legislative races have not returned excessive campaign funds from Trump’s Save America PAC in December, campaign finance reports released this week show.

Save America, registered as a political PAC in Michigan, is limited by law to giving candidates $2,100 apiece in state Senate races and $1,050 in House races.

But in December, the PAC gave nine campaigns $5,000 apiece, as Bridge Michigan first reported. Under state law, $33,450 of that $45,000 counts as excessive funds and must be returned, according to state law.

 

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Tracy Wimmer, spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, told Bridge on Thursday that, in light of the campaign finance reports filed Monday, the department will reach out to campaigns that received excessive contributions.

“If there are excess contributions the first step is a notice of error (or) omission on the committee statements,” she wrote in a text.

State Senate candidate Mike Detmer, a Livingston County businessman, is the only one who has returned the excess donations, according to campaign records.

Candidates who have not returned excess contributions are:

  • Jonathan Lindsey, a Jackson County veteran running for state Senate
  • Matt Maddock, a Milford state House representative
  • Jacky Eubanks, former Trump campaign staffer and Macomb County resident running for state House
  • Kevin Rathbun, a Shiawassee County veteran running for state House
  • Angela Rigas, a Kent County resident running for state House
  • Jon Rocha, a Marine veteran running as a write-in candidate for state House
  • Mick Bricker, an Ottawa County resident running for state House
  • Rachelle Smit, a former Martin Township clerk running for state House

Trump’s political giving in down-ballot races in Michigan — supporting candidates who promoted the false claims there was widespread election fraud in 2020 — is a rare move for him because he often endorses in congressional and gubernatorial elections. 

Even with the money, many Trump-endorsed candidates are far behind in fundraising to their opponents, some of whom are backed by the family of former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other west Michigan powerbrokers.

In Norton Shores, state Rep. Greg VanWoerkom raised $140,000, with $6,300 coming from DeVos family members. His opponent, Trump-endorsed Bricker took in $15,000, with $5,000 from Save America PAC.

In southwest Michigan, state Sen. Kim LaSata, R-Benton Harbor, raised almost $150,000 for his re-election bid as of Sunday, including $12,600 from the DeVos family. That’s almost twice as much as her Trump-endorsed opponent, Lindsey, who collected $88,630, including $10,000 in loan from his wife and $5,000 from Save America PAC. 

Lindsey’s campaign, as well as the campaign of Maddock — who was expelled from the House Republican Caucus in April — told Bridge in February they would return excess funds if needed.

Neither have done so, campaign records show, and neither returned a Bridge call for comment Thursday.

Detmer told Bridge in February that the Trump donation was a “mess” because it went to a dormant campaign account he established to run for state House in 2020. It is unclear if that money has been returned, because the House campaign has not filed reports since 2019.

Detmer didn’t return a call seeking comment this week, but records show his Senate campaign received a $5,000 donation from Save America PAC in February and returned $2,900 of it — the excess amount — in May. 

Bradley Crate, treasurer for the PAC, did not respond to a Bridge inquiry. No other candidates who received money from Save America PAC could be reached Thursday for comment.

The Secretary of State’s office typically investigates “possible campaign finance violations after receiving formal written complaints,” Wimmer told Bridge on Thursday. 

“The complaint process is another tool in the Department’s tool belt to allow citizens — many of whom have extensive political experience and heavily scrutinize campaign filings at every deadline — to also raise questions and flag potential issues,” she said in a text.

But Wimmer said the department also has discretion to “independently investigate under certain circumstances” and to issue notices to campaigns when the department finds an error or omission in their reports. 

“The Department … has exercised that discretion many times in the past, as well as routinely enforcing the law through the analysis of regular campaign finance filings,” she wrote in the text.

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