Trump donations to Michigan candidates a ‘mess,’ may have to be returned
LANSING — A political action committee affiliated with former President Donald Trump is investing in Michigan legislative races, backing candidates he says support his false claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.
It’s a rare move for former presidents, who usually pump money into federal races. And it may backfire for Trump: Much of the money his PAC, Save America, doled out to Michigan candidates may have exceeded campaign donor limits and could have to be returned.
Save America gave $5,000 apiece to nine Trump-endorsed candidates for state legislative races on Dec. 28, campaign reports filed this week reveal.
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Trouble is, Save America is listed in state records as a political PAC, which means the limit for such contributions is $2,100 for state Senate candidates and $1,050 for state House hopefuls. That means, $33,450 of the $45,000 could have to be returned, due to restrictions under Michigan’s campaign finance law.
Bradley Crate, treasurer of Save America, did not return a call for comment.
One beneficiary, Livingston County businessman Mike Detmer, who is running for state Senate, received a $5,000 contribution to a committee he established to run for the state House in 2020.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Detmer said he was unaware the check went to an account he hasn’t touched for years.
“That’s a mess,” he told Bridge Michigan. “They may have cut the check, but I certainly haven’t received it yet.”
Detmer said his campaign would refund whatever excess funds if needed from Save America.
Similarly, the campaigns of Jonathan Lindsey, a veteran running for state Senate in Jackson County, and state Rep. Matt Maddock, R-Milford, told Bridge on Tuesday they would return the excess amount if needed.
But Thomas Nemcek, who is treasurer of two campaigns that received Trump PAC money, contends Save America should have been listed by Michigan as an independent PAC, which can contribute 10 times as a regular PAC. That would mean the Trump contributions did not exceed limits.
Other candidates who received contributions did not return messages Tuesday.
While national parties often bankroll state candidates, it’s unusual for a former president like Trump to endorse only his loyalists rather than party favorites, said Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University.
“What Trump is doing … is find the people who are most personally loyal to Trump and trying to be most accepting of his … challenge of election results,” Grossman said.
“Sometimes these donations may be more about signaling than the actual money,” he added. “Trump’s endorsement or the perception that this is the Trump candidate in the race, that can be very influential of a primary election’s outcome.”
Multiple Trump-endorsed candidates who got the $5,000 check helped his efforts overturning the election by supporting unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in 2020.
Maddock, a second-term state legislator running for House Speaker, along with his wife, Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, unsuccessfully attempted to send a group of fake electors into the Michigan state Capitol in 2020.
Two fake electors from Michigan have been subpoenaed in front of a national committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot in Washington, D.C.
Trump has continued to repeat false claims that he won Michigan, even though President Joe Biden carried the state by 154,188 votes. The result was confirmed by multiple audits and an investigation from the Republican-led Senate Oversight Committee.
In his endorsements in Michigan races, Trump touted candidates he said would root out fraud or conduct so-called “forensic audits” into the 2020 race.
Other candidates who received contributions from Save America are:
- Kevin Rathbun, a Shiawassee County combat veteran running for state House
- Jacky Eubanks, a former Trump campaign staffer and Macomb County resident running for state House
- Angela Rigas, a Kent County resident running for state House
- Mick Bricker, an Ottawa County resident running for state House
- Jon Rocha, a Marine veteran running for state House in Kalamazoo County
- Rachelle Smit, a former Martin Township clerk running for state House in Allegan County
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