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Trump fundraises for Karamo, but Michigan Democrats dominate money race

Jocelyn Benson, Kristina Karamo
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has a huge fundraising edge over her Republican challenger, Kristina Karamo, who raised money for her campaign this week with former President Donald Trump. (Courtesy photos)
  • Kristina Karamo, a GOP candidate for secretary of state, fundraises with Trump at his New Jersey golf club
  • Incumbent Democrat Jocelyn Benson has raised 11 times more money than Karamo
  • Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel also dominating fundraising race against GOP challenger Matthew DePerno

LANSING —Michigan secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo held a fundraiser with former President Donald Trump on Tuesday night as her campaign faces a significant cash shortage in her bid to unseat incumbent Democrat Jocelyn Benson.

A disclosure report filed earlier Tuesday showed Karamo has raised $695,577 so far this cycle, far short of the $3.7 million raised by Benson. With less than three months left until the November general election, Benson reported $3.2 million in cash reserves, 11 times more than Karamo’s $277,250.

 

Similarly, Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel is dominating Republican challenger Matthew DePerno in the fundraising race. She ended the latest reporting period with $2.5 million in cash reserves, a stockpile that is 20 times as large as DePerno’s $125,706 cash balance.

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"Democrats were always going to have a cash advantage because they had incumbents who didn't have a nomination fight," but the disparity is "huge," said political strategist Adrian Hemond of Grassroots Midwest in Lansing.

The fundraising edge means Benson and Nessel are well positioned to buy ads before prices spike closer to the election, said Hemond, who is a Democrat.

"You have to be able to communicate with a voter," he said. "Name ID for most of these folks is bad, even for the incumbents because these are not the top of the ticket races. But name ID is a thing that you can buy if you have money, and those two Republican candidates don't."

The Karamo campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about her fundraising numbers or Tuesday evening fundraiser with Trump, which was held at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. It was expected to raise money for a new Karamo SOS Fund political action committee.

In a Wednesday Facebook post, Karamo celebrated a "great event last night" with Trump and said she is "very grateful for his continued support."

"We will take back the Michigan Secretary of State's Office! Efficient branch offices, and protecting all elements of our voter's rights," Karamo wrote.

Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddock attended the Karamo fundraiser and posted pictures with Trump on Twitter

“This fall, the future of our elections is on the line,” Maddock wrote.

Benson's latest disclosure report shows the Democratic incumbent raised more than $2.1 million so far in 2022, including contributions from more than 10,000 donors. Her campaign said more than 90 percent were $100 or less.

“As Election Day draws closer, voters are recognizing that the stakes are high in the election for secretary of state,” spokesperson Liz Boyd said in a statement. 

“They know that Secretary Benson has delivered on her promise to make it easier to do business with the Secretary of State’s Office, and she will fight to ensure elections are secure and accessible to every Michigan voter – be they a Republican, Democrat or Independent.”

The disclosure filings suggest Karamo and DePerno are struggling to raise funds despite winning the party’s endorsement convention in April with the backing of Trump, who has argued they will stop election fraud he falsely claims cost him the presidential election in 2020. 

 

Both have echoed Trump’s claims about the 2020 election, and DePerno is the focus of state investigation into vote tabulator tampering. Citing a conflict of interest, Nessel is seeking a special prosecutor to decide whether charges against DePerno are warranted.

DePerno hosted a fundraiser in March at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where the former president spoke on DePerno's behalf. DePerno's campaign reported paying more than $9,000 for catering, rental and room fees but donations appeared to flow into a separate super PAC supporting his candidacy.

The True Michigan PAC reported $177,445 in March donations, including $18,200 from a company owned by Perry Johnson, the businessman who had been running for Michigan governor and attended the Mar-a-Lago fundraiser. Johnson was disqualified from the August primary ballot over issues with his campaign petitions.

The super PAC has raised $367,445 for the cycle and had about $124,065 in cash reserves as of July 20, according to a previously filed disclosure report

DePerno’s campaign reported raising $577,258 in 2022 and a total $768,990 for the cycle, well short of the $1.6 million this year and $3.7 million overall raised by Nessel, a first-term Democrat seeking re-election. 

DePerno's campaign touted the number of donations he had received — 6,496, according to his disclosure report — rather than the cash total, arguing those donations show Nessel is a "national embarrassment."

"His campaign drew in support from all 50 states in addition to the 3,300 Michiganders who are fed up with Nessel's drunken joy ride on power,” said DePerno spokesperson Tyson Shepard. 

"The people of Michigan are realizing they're living under the most corrupt AG in the country and Matt will continue to provide Michigan a real fighter who believes in the law."

Nessel’s campaign reported contributions from 16,820 donors — more than twice as many as DePerno. She received hefty sums from union groups like SEIU Michigan ($71,500) and AFSCME ($51,500), according to her disclosure report

Top individual donors to Nessel included California film director Steven Spielberg, actress Monica Rosenthal and Strategic Staffing Solutions CEO Cynthia Pasky of Detroit, who each gave Nessel the maximum $7,150.

Nessel's campaign said 65 percent of her contributors are based in Michigan, and the average contribution was less than $100.

“Supporters are putting their money behind Nessel thanks to her tireless work on behalf of her constituents,” said spokesperson Sarah Stevenson. 

“Whether it’s fighting to preserve their reproductive rights, holding accountable those who worked to throw out the results of the 2020 election, aggressively prosecuting crimes committed against some of Michigan’s most vulnerable residents, or bringing legal action to lower the cost of prescription drugs, voters know the People’s Lawyer has their back.” 

DePerno and Karamo appear to have alienated some traditional GOP donors, including the Devos family of west Michigan, who supported other candidates at the party’s endorsement convention and has not yet offered any financial support to the presumed nominees.

In an April press conference, Michigan GOP chair Ron Weiser urged “poor losers” to rally behind DePerno and Karamo and told reporters he intends to personally raise or donate “the resources needed to be successful.”

The new disclosure reports show Weiser has donated the maximum $7,150 to both Karamo and DePerno’s campaigns. Trump’s Save America PAC has also given $5,000 to each.

Sponsor

DePerno has personally loaned his campaign more than $80,000, according to his filing. Other top donors include four former gubernatorial candidates: Perry Johnson and Kevin Rinke each gave DePerno a maximum $7,150; Ryan Kelley and his wife Tabitha each gave $5,000 and Ralph Rebandt donated $4,000.

Karamo’s new PAC was formed in May and has not yet disclosed any donors. Top donors to her campaign include Robert Beale of Premier Property Management in Fenton and Stan Fitzgerald of Veterans for America First in Georgia, who each gave a maximum $7,150.

Benson, like Nessel, reported large contributions from union groups, including $71,500 from SEIU Michigan, along with $100,000 from the Michigan Democratic Party’s state central committee. 

Maximum individual donors included Spielberg, Michigan beer magnate Larry Bell and East Lansing attorney Jamie White, who each gave Benson $7,150.

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