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Judge dismisses GOP lawsuit over Michigan Gov. Whitmer’s fundraising

Whitmer
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has raised more than six times than her nearest Republican rival in her bid for re-election this year. (Bridge file photo)

LANSING—  A federal judge this week dismissed a lawsuit against Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson for allowing fellow Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to use a loophole to blow past fundraising limits.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Janet Neff said the lawsuit brought by the Michigan Republican Party and its chair Ron Weiser lacks “standing and subject matter jurisdiction.”

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The GOP and Weiser on Wednesday appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, but the ruling is the second victory in recent weeks for Whitmer over the issue.

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She has shattered fundraising records by using a 1984 ruling that exempts candidates facing a recall from limiting individual contributions to $7,150 per donor. From January 2021 to July, she raised $8.6 million. 

In late December, the Michigan Bureau of Elections cleared Whitmer of any violations for using a 1984 administrative ruling by former Secretary of State Richard Austin to exceed individual donation limits. Austin ruled donation limits don’t apply when candidates are targeted in recalls.

Republicans contend Whitmer doesn’t face any credible recall threats. 

The 1984 ruling created the exception because recall committees targeting officials can accept unlimited donations. And while dozens of recall attempts against Whitmer were approved last year, none have made it far because of unclear language, lack of signatures or factual errors in the petitions.

According to campaign disclosures from last year, more than 150 donors contributed more than the state’s individual campaign limits. Whitmer’s campaign ended up receiving more than $3.4 million in donations that exceeded individual limits.

Whitmer so far has raised far more than potential Republican rivals in this year’s election.

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig led all Republican candidates by collecting  $1.4 million during the first three months of this campaign. Businessman Kevin Rinke, a later addition to the field, has pledged to spend $10 million of his own money on a campaign.

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The GOP lawsuit said Whitmer’s use of the loophole gives her a huge advantage because Republican candidates are not allowed to exceed individual donor limits.

Neff, who was appointed to the bench by former Republican President George W. Bush, ruled the GOP “failed to allege a concrete and particularized injury.”

“The problem with this claim … is that (it) is predicated entirely on the rights and interests of the yet-to-be-named 2022 gubernatorial candidate, a candidate only to be named after the August 2022 primary election,” Neff wrote.

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