Michigan GOP critics seek to oust Kristina Karamo: ‘We’ve got the votes’
- Michigan Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo faces ouster effort amid fundraising woes
- A removal vote could come this month, and foes are recruiting possible successors including former Rep. Pete Hoekstra
- Karamo claims she is under attack by ‘old guard’ that used the Michigan GOP as ‘influence peddling operation’
LANSING — A GOP activist leading a new push to oust Michigan Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo claims internal critics have enough votes to remove her by the end of the year, setting the stage for a dramatic December showdown.
“We’re trying to have this wrapped up prior to Christmas,” said Warren Carpenter, former chair of the Michigan GOP’s 9th Congressional District, who told Bridge Michigan he initially supported Karamo but has since soured on her.
“She has to go if we have any chance of salvaging the party for 2024,” Carpenter said, referring to a critical election year that has Republicans seeking to take back the state House, fight for control of Congress and the White House.
The ouster effort comes nine months into Karamo’s rocky term, which has been punctuated by significant fundraising struggles, physical fights at party events and a string of controversies, including her comparison of gun control legislation to the Holocaust.
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While opponents have already quietly started to court potential Karamo replacements, including former west Michigan U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, others contend the party is so splintered she may be able to survive any removal attempt.
“The reality of the matter is there are no sane people left in charge of the Michigan Republican Party, so when one party calls the other crazy, I'm not sure what to make of it,” said longtime Michigan Republican strategist Dennis Lennox.
An election denier who never conceded her overwhelming loss to Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last year, Karamo was elected by delegates from across the state in February on a promise to expand the party’s donor pool by wooing “Republican-leaning” small business owners rather than relying on “millionaire/billionaire class political-establishment operatives.”
That hasn’t happened.
The state party had just $35,000 left in its bank accounts as of mid-August, according to leaked statements first reported by The Detroit News. Karamo has since said the state party took out a $110,000 loan to pay a speaker for September’s Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, which had traditionally been a profitable fundraiser.
The party is now facing “imminent default” on its line of credit, according to a warning from state committee member Jessica Barefield, one of two Republicans who resigned from the Michigan GOP’s internal budget committee this month.
The financial straits are so dire the party is attempting to sell its former headquarters in Lansing even though the building is technically owned by a separate trust, Barefield wrote in her Nov. 9 resignation letter.
Fellow state committee member Dane Couture resigned his budget post the following week, writing in a letter that Karamo has failed to live up to financial transparency promises and has done serious "damage" to the party.
‘Division in the party’
Karamo, who did not respond to an interview request from Bridge, has claimed she inherited nearly $500,000 in debt from former GOP chair Ron Weiser, a wealthy businessman who put more than $3.2 million of his money into the state party over the prior two years.
Weiser didn’t seek re-election after GOP candidates lost key races in 2022, which is typical for party leaders following significant election defeats.
Karamo this month told a conservative talk radio show she is under attack from the “old guard” that used the Michigan Republican Party as an “influence peddling operation” where “lots of money was accumulated to simply bribe and control politicians.”
“When you decide to take these people on, they have billions of dollars at their disposal, and they are going to leverage war on you,” she said. “But guess what? When you have God on your side, you will prevail as long as you conduct yourself in a righteous manner.”
Opponents seeking her ouster last month began circulating a petition calling for a state committee vote on whether to remove Karamo, while simultaneously proposing party bylaw changes to make the process easier.
"Her leadership has failed," said Bree Moeggenberg, a state committee member from Mount Pleasant who told Bridge she initially supported Karamo and voted for her at the Michigan GOP convention in February.
"I believe that she has caused division in the party — not just to the establishment, whom she cares not to have money from — but also from all factions of the grassroots. Unless you fully agree with her, she will not collaborate, and she will not communicate."
Moeggenberg recently proposed an amendment to the Michigan GOP bylaws that would rein in a "conflict resolution committee" that Karamo created to address local disputes that have roiled the party.
The amendment would also lower the voting threshold needed to remove any Michigan GOP officer — including Karamo — from 75 percent to 66 percent of the party's state committee, which includes more than 100 members.
A second proposed bylaw amendment from 8th District state committee member Ian Shetron would lower the threshold even further, requiring just 60 percent support "of the voting members present" to remove Karamo, he told Bridge.
One or both proposals could go before the state committee in December, where organizers would need support from two-thirds of members to change the bylaws ahead of a Karamo referendum.
"We've got the votes," said Carpenter, the former 9th Congressional District Chairman leading the effort. "Literally, I'm just wrangling signatures at this time."
Among other things, Carpenter has criticized Karamo for hiring a campaign supporter’s firm to run the state party’s website and suggested she may have crossed legal lines when fundraising for the Mackinac convention.
The Michigan GOP paid actor Jim Caviezel $110,000 to speak at the event with a check from a trust linked to state party executive director Jim Copas, according to contract documents obtained by Bridge.
The party is only now claiming it was a loan because the funding far exceeds federal donation limits, according to Carpenter, who helped organize the conference but resigned because of the experience.
Despite the growing internal criticism of Karamo, state party rules allow her to avoid or at least delay any removal vote, said Lennox, the GOP strategist.
She could direct her supporters to boycott the vote, for instance, which could prevent the state committee from achieving a quorum necessary for a meeting.
It’s “more likely” the Republican National Committee steps in and simply stops recognizing the state party under Karamo because it is "bankrupt" and "institutionally dead," Lennox said.
He noted that large donors who traditionally supported the Michigan GOP have already found new avenues to finance candidates.
Karamo maintains a significant base of support in the Michigan GOP, however, and her backers say she should at least have a chance to finish out the two-year term she was elected to by grassroots delegates who took over the party in a wave of activism inspired by former President Donald Trump.
If the big money donors "truly cared about the Republican Party that they profess to love and defend" they would "work with" Karamo, said Debra Ell, who sits on the executive committee of the Saginaw County Republican Party.
“They pull all their money out and leave her with nothing, hoping she'll shrivel up and die. And now these factions are claiming, ‘She doesn't have any money.’ Well, she's trying.”
Under party bylaws, a successful effort to remove Karamo would result in temporary appointment of co-chair Melinda Pego until the state committee selects a new chair at their next meeting.
Hoekstra, the former congressman who served as U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands under Trump and considered a state chair campaign in 2022, declined to say whether he still has any interest in the post.
“There is no opening" at the Michigan GOP, he told Bridge Michigan, acknowledging the party "is facing some challenges" but saying he is "not involved in the ongoing developments."
Carpenter told Bridge he has not had any direct discussions with Hoekstra about replacing Karamo but suggested any potential successor with “the ability to raise money and pull off this kind of salvage operation” would be unlikely to publicly acknowledge any interest unless or until the post is vacant.
“I think that if we can get a new chair in before Christmas that we have the opportunity to still raise $10 million” for 2024 elections, Carpenter said.
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