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Group tied to Michigan governor candidate Gretchen Whitmer reveals donors

Feb. 2019: Pro-Whitmer group broke Michigan campaign finance laws, Benson finds​
Oct. 2018: Truth Squad | Ads unfairly attack Whitmer on healthcare, missed votes
Sept. 2018: Turning Gretchen Whitmer into Granholm, a Republican gamble in governor race
August 2018 update: Gretchen Whitmer wins Democratic primary for Michigan governor
Related: Get to know Garlin Gilchrist II, Gretchen Whitmer's pick for Lt. Governor

Facing accusations that it was hiding donors until after the Aug. 7 gubernatorial primary, a political group tied to Democrat Gretchen Whitmer on Monday released the identity of those who donated more than $2.23 million to the group.

The list includes nearly $2 million from union groups, affiliates and progressive organizations, more than $150,000 from individuals and nearly $90,000 from businesses.

Build a Better Michigan - running  $1.8 million in campaign ads that feature Whitmer, a former state senator - was required to file its financial disclosure report with the Internal Revenue Service on July 15. But it did so by mail, while IRS officials said it would take weeks to upload the report and make it public.

That sparked accusations last week from a progressive Whitmer rival, Abdul El-Sayed, that Whitmer was benefiting from what he called a “dark money group” whose lack of disclosure he said is “corrupting our Democratic primary.”

Full disclosure on Whitmer group donors

Build Better Michigan, whose ads feature Michigan governor candidate Gretchen Whitmer, took in more than $2.2 million in donations in the second quarter of 2018. The top 10 donors:

  • $300,000 Progressive Advocacy Trust (Ingham County Democratic Party)
  • $250,000 Philip A. Hart Democratic Club of Mount Clemens (same address as Macomb County Democratic Party)
  • $250,000 Emily’s List (promotes pro-choice female candidates)
  • $250,000 DRIVE Committee of Washington D.C. (Teamsters PAC)
  • $250,000 UAW V Cap of Detroit
  • $151,000 Michigan Laborers District Council (Lansing)
  • $150,000 Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters of Detroit
  • $125,000 UFCW Local 951 (Grand Rapids)
  • $100,000 United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Pipe Fitting Industry (Maryland)
  • $80,000 Michigan Association for Justice (Lawyers group, Lansing)
  • See full list here

Related: Truth Squad: Abdul El-Sayed says rival Gretchen Whitmer opens door to ‘dark money’

Whitmer had dismissed El-Sayed’s demands that Build Better Michigan disclose its donors as a “ploy by someone who is in third place” in the Democratic primary race.

Mark Burton, spokesman for Build Better Michigan, at first brushed off concerns it was skirting public disclosure through a technicality, saying it “remains 100 percent in compliance” with the IRS. Burton, who was Whitmer’s chief of staff, said it mailed in its report because it was unable to get a PIN from the IRS to send the report electronically.

But on Monday, Burton released a statement that said in part: “We are going above and beyond our responsibilities by releasing this ourselves today.”

Build a Better Michigan is organized under section 527 of the IRS code that allows it to accept unlimited contributions from unions or corporations. But unlike other nonprofit campaign organizations, it is required to disclose donors.

Who is on the list released Monday is no particular shock – it’s dominated by big labor and Democratic groups.

Its top contributors include something called the Progressive Advocacy Trust, listed as an Ingham County Democratic Party account, which gave $300,000; the Philip A. Hart Democratic Club in Mount Clemens, which gave $250,000 and which shares an address with the Macomb Democratic Party; and Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice women candidates to political office, which gave $250,000.

Top labor contributors include the Drive Committee, a Teamsters PAC, which gave $250,000; the United Auto Workers V Cap of Detroit, which gave $250,000; the Michigan Laborers District Council of Lansing, which gave $151,000; and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters, which gave $150,000.

The individual donors include Seattle resident Richard Barton, who appears to be a former Microsoft executive and founder of Zillow and Expedia, who gave nearly $48,000; and Mark Bernstein, a member of the University of Michigan Board of Regents and managing partner of The Sam Bernstein Law Firm, who gave $32,000.

Richard Whitmer, the candidate's father and retired CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, also donated $10,000.

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