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Gov. Whitmer leads fundraising as Trump-endorsed GOP candidates struggle

whitmer
The Democratic governor raised $9.5 million this year, with most money coming from small donors who each gave $200 or less. She raised more from individual donors than the five GOP gubernatorial candidates still on the ballot combined. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer raised more from individual donors this year than five GOP candidates combined
  • Several GOP candidates kept spending after being disqualified from the ballot
  • Trump-endorsed state candidates struggled with fundraising as they challenge GOP establishment foes

LANSING — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer dominated gubernatorial fundraising this year, hauling in $9.5 million as of Sunday while still holding nearly $15 million in the bank, giving her a significant edge over whichever Republican she faces in the fall general election, the latest campaign finance records show.

Whitmer’s 2022 campaign haul is bigger than what the five GOP candidates still on the ballot raised combined, according to campaign finance reports released by the Secretary of State’s office, covering the period from Jan. 1 through Sunday.

And just since Sunday, Whitmer raised nearly $325,000 — more than what some GOP candidates had raised over seven months.

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Among GOP candidates, Muskegon resident Tudor Dixon raised the most — $1.2 million — from mostly individual donors, with a boost from former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her family members.

And real estate agent Ryan Kelley, who was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation last month for his alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., received a boost in fundraising following the arrest, but still raised less in the past seven months than Whitmer raised in the past several days, reports show.

Other disqualified gubernatorial candidates did not stop spending even after they were kept off the ballot, records show Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who plans to run as a write-in candidate, paid six figures for consulting and personal security out of campaign funds even after the state disqualified him from the ballot due to forged signatures.

In all, the five disqualified candidates paid at least $218,000 to the signature-gathering firm linked to a massive signature forgery scandal that dramatically reshaped the GOP gubernatorial field, records show.

In state legislative races, several Trump-endorsed candidates are lagging in fundraising as they face primary opponents backed by DeVos and other powerbrokers in West Michigan.

Here are several takeaways:

Whitmer fundraising

The Democratic incumbent netted $9.5 million this year as of Sunday, bringing the total amount she has raised this election cycle to almost $30 million. 

Most campaign funds she raised this year — 94 percent, according to the campaign — comes from small donors who each gave $200 or less. 

The campaign also raised at least $569,000 mostly from the political arms of companies, including St. Louis, Missouri-based managed care company Centene Corps, whose PAC gave $55,000, and Pontiac-based mortgage lending company United Wholesale Mortgage, whose PAC contributed $42,850.

Whitmer’s campaign raked in more than $324,700 between Monday and Wednesday, including $41,000 from Consumers Energy and $7,000 from Michigan Cannabis Industry Association, records show.

That’s more than Kelley, or his primary opponent Ralph Rebandt, has raised since January. 

This isn’t the first time Whitmer has raised more than her GOP opponents combined. She raised $14.2 million in 2021, including at least $3.8 million in funds that exceeded campaign contribution limits from more than 200 individual donors, Bridge previously reported.

Earlier last year, Whitmer was allowed to skirt contribution limits and raise excess funds due to a recall campaign against her during the pandemic. But Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel stated Whitmer must return or spend the excess funds since no recall campaigns were active or successful. As a result, Whitmer’s campaign directed almost $3.6 million toward the Michigan Democratic Party, which could use the money to boost her campaign or attack other candidates. 

But Whitmer’s fundraising has remained strong without excess contributions. As of Sunday, her campaign had shelled out $4.6 million, including $895,000 in ad production and buying and $886,000 in direct mailing. 

GOP gubernatorial field

Kevin Rinke, whose campaign largely relies on his own money, reported raising $8.4 million this year, with $8 million coming from his own pocket, campaign finance records show.

Since launching his gubernatorial bid, the Bloomfield Township businessman has poured $10 million into his campaign but received less from individual donors when compared to some of his primary opponents. 

Rinke’s campaign shelled out $5.7 million this year, with $4.1 million of that going toward ad buying and production. As of Sunday, the campaign still had $4.2 million in the bank. 

Of several ads Rinke’s campaign produced, one targeted his primary opponent Tudor Dixon and said she “betrayed” Trump for receiving an endorsement from former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Dixon’s campaign issued a cease-and-desist letter, demanding Rinke take down the ad, but Rinke has yet to do so. 

The campaign also paid more than $651,000 for consulting services, including $152,000 to Majority Strategies, a Florida-based consulting firm used by state Republican Parties and the Republican National Committee.

Dixon’s campaign raised $1.2 million during the same period mostly from individual donors, with $71,500 from the DeVos family, campaign records show. Her campaign also received $7,150 from Washington, D.C.-based conservative advocacy group The Presidential Coalition.

Since announcing her candidacy, Dixon has received endorsements from several Republican establishment groups, including the DeVos family, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity-Michigan and powerful GOP lawmakers such as state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and U.S. Reps. Bill Huizenga and Lisa McClain. 

Dixon’s campaign spent $731,000 this year, including more than $22,000 at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, records show. In February, Dixon held her own fundraiser at the club, with Trump appearing to stump for her and calling her “very special.”

Dixon paid $162,000 to National Petition Management, a nationwide professional signature gathering firm run by California businessman Lee Albright, for petition consulting. The campaign paid $92,500 to Stampede America LLC, a Florida-based firm, to gather signatures. 

The campaign also spent $20,000 on tv ad buying as well as social media services, records show.

Kalamazoo chiropractor Garrett Soldano’s campaign raised more than $736,000 from individual donors this year, bringing the total amount he raised this election cycle to $2.1 million, records show. 

Soldano’s campaign spent more than $719,000 this year, including more than $88,000 in ad buying, at least $95,000 for direct mailing services and $29,500 on polling. His campaign also spent $716 on “jacket embroidery,” records show. 

Soldano is the only gubernatorial candidate to apply for public funding. As of July 15, his campaign was entitled to receive more than $246,000 from the state, according to a letter from the state Bureau of Elections. 

Under state law, qualified candidates can apply for state funds to boost their campaigns. The state matches up to $200 for every $100 in qualifying contributions raised by those candidates.

To qualify for public funding, candidates must have raised more than $75,000 from Michigan residents who each gave $100 or less per year, limit donations from themselves and their families to $50,000 and promise not to spend more than $2 million in the election cycle. 

However, that $2 million cap is waived in this gubernatorial primary race, according to state law, because Rinke raised more than $340,000 of his own funds and from his immediate family. 

Craig’s campaign kept spending after being kept off ballot

James Craig, former frontrunner in the GOP gubernatorial field who is now disqualified from the ballot, hauled in almost $1.3 million this year, records show.

But most of the money came in before the former Detroit police chief was kept off the ballot due to a massive signature forgery scandal that shrank the GOP primary gubernatorial field by half. The Board of State Canvassers on May 26 denied Craig and several other candidates a spot on the August ballot, and Craig said he is now running as a write-in candidate.

Since then, Craig’s campaign took in less than $50,000, reports show. But the campaign did not stop spending. 

Since the board’s decision, records show Craig’s campaign shelled out more than $417,000, including $212,000 in campaign, fundraising and legal consulting services. 

His campaign paid nearly $76,000 in June to Templar Baker Group LLC, a consulting firm founded by former Michigan GOP chair Bobby Schostak. Since May 26, he’s also paid more than $45,000 in security services — with the most recent payment on July 5 — and spent almost $41,000 on direct mailing.

More than $218,000 paid toward firm linked to signature forgery

Craig, and some other gubernatorial candidates kicked off the ballot due to forged signatures, paid at least $218,000 to First Choice Contracting, a professional signature gathering firm run by Ferndale businessman Shawn Wilmoth, records show. 

Wilmoth was tied to at least 30 of the 36 paid circulators the state has identified as having submitted forged signatures for gubernatorial campaigns, Bridge previously reported. Last month, the state Attorney General’s office raided Wilmoth’s Warren home.

Wilmoth may have received more money from the gubernatorial campaigns than campaign finance reports showed. That’s because he worked as a subcontractor to several of them, including Craig’s, and the payments are not disclosed on those candidates’ campaign finance reports. 

Although state law does subject subcontractors to disclosure rules, experts and campaigns have said the regulation is loosely enforced.

Craig, who sued more than a dozen paid circulators linked to Wilmoth, claimed in the lawsuit a contractor hired Wilmoth’s company without the campaign’s knowledge. The campaign paid more than $160,000 to Missouri signature gathering firm VanGuard Field Strategies, which is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Now a third-party hopeful for governor, Byron Center businesswoman Donna Brandenburg, who is running as a U.S. Taxpayers Party of Michigan candidate, raised $398,000 this year, with most of that money — $390,000 — coming from her own funds.  

Her campaign spent $395,000, including more than $155,000 to Wilmoth’s firm as “professional fees.” She also paid $170,000 to Redwood and Company LLC, a company registered in March at a Washington Township home. 

Michigan State Police captain Michael Brown, who was also disqualified, raised more than $181,000 as of Sunday, including $36,000 raised this year, records show. 

Brown’s campaign paid more than $63,000 to First Choice Contracting. He previously told Bridge he had given the AG’s office his contract, emails and text messages with Wilmoth’s firm.

Trump-endorsed candidates struggle in state legislative races

In state legislative races, candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump are trailing  primary opponents — most of whom received financial boosts from the DeVos family and prominent West Michigan groups.

State Rep. Greg VanWoerkom, R-North Shores, raised $140,000 this year, including $6,300 from six DeVos family members who each gave the maximum $1,050. His campaign also received $1,050 from Kalamazoo philanthropist Bill Parfet and $5,000 from TGIF Victory Fund, which is primarily backed by West Michigan real estate developer Dan Hibma. 

Meanwhile, his primary opponent Mick Bricker, who is one of nine state legislative candidates endorsed by Trump, only took in $15,000, with $5,000 from Trump-affiliated Save America PAC. 

In the new 17th Senate District just south of Kalamazoo, state Sen. Kim LaSata, R-Benton Harbor, raised almost $150,000 as of Sunday, including $12,600 from the DeVos family, records show. 

Trump-endorsed Jonathan Lindsey, who is running against LaSata, took in $88,630, including $10,000 in loan from his wife and $5,000 from Save America PAC, records show. 

St. Clair County Clerk Jay DeBoyer, who is running for an open House seat that covers parts of the county, raised almost $102,000 this year. The DeVos’ contributed $5,250, with each of five family members giving the maximum $1,050 allowed under state law.

His primary opponent, Trump-endorsed Jacky Eubanks, raised just over $26,000. 

Rep. Matt Maddock, a Trump endorsee who was expelled from the House Republican Caucus in April, raised just $3,400 this year in his re-election bid. It includes $1,000 from the Michigan Farm Bureau PAC and another $1,000 from former mixed martial arts fighter Josh Bitterman, who is running for Congress.

Maddock does not have a primary opponent and the district is deep red. But the incumbent Republican was outraised by his Democratic challenger Sarah May-Seward, who took in $9,600 this year.  

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