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Ruling: Gov. Whitmer didn’t violate Michigan law with private jet, donations

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has drawn heat for accepting a flight on a private plane owned by businessmen and blowing past fundraising limits.

LANSING— The Michigan Bureau of Elections cleared Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s campaign of wrongdoing for traveling on a private jet owned by wealthy donors and using a loophole to blow past fundraising limits.

The first-term Democrat had faced campaign finance complaints from conservative groups for accepting a flight on a plane to visit her father in March in Florida and exceeding individual giving limits en route to raising $8.6 million from January to July.

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The flight was controversial because it came during the height of the pandemic, when Whitmer’s staff was advising people not to leave the state. After the issue became public, Whitmer’s campaign covered the $27,521 cost of the trip on the plane owned by a trio of business families in southeast Michigan.

Because Whitmer’s campaign reimbursed the cost of the trip, there was no violation, ruled Adam Fraccasi of the elections bureau, which is an arm of the Michigan Department of State. 

In an opinion, he wrote that travel by a private plane “is response rationally related” to death threats against Whitmer.

Whitmer also was cleared of any violations for using a loophole in campaign law that allows candidates facing recalls to accept individual contributions that exceed the individual limit of $7,150. 

Campaign finance records show more than 150 donors contributed more than that amount, and Whitmer collected more than $3.4 million in excess donations this year.

Whitmer’s campaign had argued it could use the loophole because of the over 20 recall efforts against the governor in the state. All have been unsuccessful.

The Bureau of Elections acknowledged in its ruling that no other candidate has raised issues of the loophole, and dismissed the complaint due to no evidence of violation.

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“Although, when applying existing precedent, there was not a basis to find a violation with regard to the existing complaint, the recall exception as currently defined does create the potential for abuse by allowing otherwise-excess contributions to be used for what would otherwise amount to campaign advertising,” Fracassi wrote. 

Tori Sachs, the executive director of conservative group Michigan Freedom Fund, filed the complaint against Whitmer. 

She slammed Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who oversees the elections bureau, for the decision.

“Today’s ruling by the Democratic Secretary of State is about winning her own election – not upholding the rule of law,” Sachs said. 

“Benson is encouraging partisans to file recalls in order to game the system and raise unlimited campaign funds.”

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