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Michigan Republicans sue over Gov. Whitmer fundraising loophole

Gretchen Whitmer
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will veto voter ID requirements approved by the Michigan Legislature. (Bridge file photo)

Oct. 25: Whitmer blows past donor limits, raises more than 9 GOP candidates combined
Oct. 15: Michigan Gov. Whitmer may have to return or donate millions in contributions

The Michigan Republican Party and its chair, Ron Weiser, have filed a lawsuit over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s use of a campaign finance law loophole to shatter fundraising records.

Whitmer, a first-term Democrat up for re-election in 2022, took advantage of a 1984 ruling that waives individual donor limits of $7,150 for candidates seeking active recalls.


Although no recall efforts have made it far, Whitmer collected more than 154 donations of more than $7,150 en route to raising a record $8.6 million from Jan. 1 to July 20. Two donors, attorney Mark Bernstein and Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker, gave more than $250,000 apiece.

Gustavo Portela, communications director of the Michigan GOP, contended in a news release Tuesday that Whitmer continues to use the loophole because “it’s no secret that she thinks she’s above the law.”


“Our lawsuit will ensure that her crony, (fellow Democrat) Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, applies campaign finance rules fairly to all candidates running for governor,” Portela said. 

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan against Benson, challenges $3.4 million of funds raised by Whitmer. The suit wants a judge to end the loophole on the grounds that it violates the 1st and 14th Amendments because the other gubernatorial candidates are not allowed to accept more than the state limits.

Whitmer’s camp argues the individual limits can be exceeded because of an opinion by former Secretary of State Richard Austin, a Democrat who ruled contribution caps shouldn’t apply to candidates who are targets of recalls if they use the money to fight those efforts.

Austin made the ruling by reasoning that recall committees don’t have to follow contribution limits, so targets of the efforts shouldn’t have to either.

The exception had not been challenged in court, however, and no governor since the early 1990s has accepted donations above the limits even though all faced a recall petition.

Mark Fisk, a spokesperson for Whitmer’s campaign, told Bridge Michigan  Tuesday the lawsuit was “totally baseless, ludicrous and frivolous.”

“These are (the) same political operatives who used sleazy payoffs to push candidates out of running for office and funneled millions into dark money slush funds to promote voter suppression efforts and attacks on public health experts,” Fisk said.

His statement referred to Weiser's use of Michigan GOP funds in a deal that pushed a 2018 Republican candidate for Secretary of State out of the contest. He paid a $200,000 fine over the payment.


“You should never throw stones in glass houses, but Ron Weiser just hurled a huge boulder through his, shattering his credibility and proving the Michigan Republican Party’s hypocrisy knows no bounds,” Fisk said.

This is not the first complaint filed against the governor for using the loophole.

In July, the conservative group Michigan Freedom Fund filed a complaint with the Bureau of Elections. The group claimed it was “absurd for anyone to believe that any of the proponents of these recall petitions against Gov. Whitmer were actively seeking a recall election.”

None of the dozens of recall attempts against Whitmer have been approved, or made it far because of factual errors in the petitions, or lack of signatures.

Tracy Wimmer, a spokesperson for Benson, declined to comment citing the pending litigation.

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