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Kristina Karamo feuds with co-chair, as Michigan Republican civil war worsens

Michigan GOP Chair Kristina Karamo and co-chair Malinda Pego on stage
Michigan GOP Chair Kristina Karamo and co-chair Malinda Pego are at odds over financial transparency and a budget committee ouster within the state party. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Michigan GOP leaders feud over budget committee ouster
  • Chair Kristina Karamo accuses fellow Republicans of plot to ‘demonize’ her
  • Co-Chair Melinda Pego criticizes Karamo administration for lack of financial transparency

LANSING — The Michigan GOP's ongoing money woes have sparked a feud at the highest levels of the state party, with co-chair Malinda Pego challenging recent moves by Chair Kristina Karamo.

In a Wednesday evening email to Michigan GOP activists, Pego accused the Karamo administration of failing to share financial information with the party's budget committee.


Pego told fellow Republicans she was "not informed nor included" in a controversial decision by Karamo to remove budget committee chair Matt Johnson, an ally of Pego's in Muskegon County GOP politics. 


"The budget committee needs to see all the bank statements," Pego wrote in an email obtained by Bridge Michigan. "We need to know ALL amounts of money being fundraised and coming in and that on a regular basis." 

Karamo, in a leaked email of her own that had been sent to state central committee members earlier in the week, accused Republicans of spreading false information about her decision to remove Johnson from the budget post. 

"It has come to my attention that some within our party are plotting a scheme to demonize me for exercising my authority as State Chair of the Michigan Republican Party," Karamo wrote.

The escalating feud is the latest example of infighting within the Michigan GOP, which has been reshaped by a grassroots movement loyal to former President Donald Trump that largely removed most "establishment" Republicans from the party. 

The first meeting of the party's state committee, in April, was marked by a physical altercation between two Republicans who were part of warring factions loyal to Karamo and former chair candidate Matthew DePerno.

Citing Pego's email, longtime Michigan GOP operative Brandon Hall wrote on Facebook late Wednesday that members of the party's state committee were plotting a potential "no confidence" vote in Karamo. 

There is "zero" truth to that claim, 5th Congressional District Chairman Jon Smith told Bridge. There is “frustration” within the party, he acknowledged.

Smith helped convene a Wednesday evening Zoom meeting with fellow district chairs to discuss the budget committee dispute. Pego was on the three-hour call seeking “more transparency and communication” by the administration but did not push to try and overthrow Karamo, Smith said.

Karamo and Pego did not immediately respond to voicemails, emails or text messages seeking comment on this story.

The Michigan GOP has faced significant financial challenges since Karamo took over the party in February with a pledge to focus on small-money contributions because many big donors had abandoned the increasingly grassroots party. 

Karamo has alleged her predecessors left the party in debt and gave her no access bank accounts, donor lists and other relevant information needed to perform routine functions.

"It's stressful in our party,” said Smith, the 5th Congressional District chair. “We have a whole new organization, there's limited money, there's limited skill sets and expertise — and on top of it all, the Democrats have a majority (in Lansing), and they're having their way."

In her Wednesday email to fellow Republicans, Pego said she had opened a new bank account for the Michigan GOP but that her own access had been "removed, denied and not yet reinstated."

More than four months into Karamo's tenure, the budget committee has not received enough information from the administration to craft a budget or make other decisions, aside from approving Karamo's salary, Pego alleged. 

"We need to know ALL outgoing expenditures, and that on a regular basis," Pego wrote in the email,  first reported by the subscription-based Michigan Information & Research Service.

"We need to see all accounts, all contracts, all agreements, all current roles and positions, all proposed positions, etc., everything. We need the Mackinac Leadership Conference financial information, contract, income, payments, invoices, expenses etc., in its entirety."

Johnson, in a statement provided to Bridge Michigan, said the budget committee he had led sought to implement "responsible spending limits" given "extremely meager" fundraising but was met with "adamant opposition from Chair Karamo and the small circle of operatives around her."

"As one of the many people who had been won over with the inspiring vision Chair Karamo gave us in her speeches, I am profoundly disappointed," Johnson continued. "I know the Republican Party has lost the trust of many, and I’m sorry to see more of the same, when we can do much better."


In her own email to GOP activists, Karamo defended her decision to remove Johnson from the budget committee. She accused him of "non-action" and "slow action on critical items" and a "leak of sensitive committee information," along with communication and leadership failures.

Karamo also lamented the feud itself, urging Republicans to instead focus on the upcoming 2024 election cycle, which will feature a presidential contest, state House races and what will likely be a fierce battle for a U.S. Senate seat opening up with the pending retirement of Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. 

"What should be a simple intra-committee matter is now spilling beyond that, which will cause further division within our party," Karamo wrote. 

"These divisions are a distraction when our party should be unifying around stopping the Marxists in Lansing."

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