Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Whitmer under fire for ‘intentional attack’ on Michigan government watchdog

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at press conference
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is proposing a major budget cut for the state Office of Auditor General. (File photo)
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is proposing an $8.3 million funding cut for Michigan’s government watchdog organization
  • Republicans allege the proposed cut is a politically motivated response to critical audits of Whitmer administration
  • A Michigan Democratic Party leader contends Auditor General Doug Ringler is a ‘partisan hack’

LANSING — A government watchdog responsible for auditing state departments and programs is staring down a potential $8.3 million cut, and the head of that agency has one question: Why?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office is not saying why her budget proposes to slash funding to Auditor General Doug Ringler’s office, which in recent years identified additional COVID-19 nursing home deaths and found the state hired identity thieves to process unemployment claims, among other things.

Republicans are lambasting the proposed cut as an attempt by Whitmer to avoid accountability and transparency, and Ringler has warned it could jeopardize his office’s ability to “provide valuable oversight and partnership in an independent, objective and transparent manner."

Auditor General Doug Ringler
Auditor General Doug Ringler testifies before a joint House and Senate Oversight Committee regarding the number of reported COVID-19 deaths in state nursing homes on Jan. 20, 2022. (Screenshot House Television)

Most legislative Democrats declined to discuss the matter or said they are “reviewing” the governor’s recommendation. But the state party chair has decried Ringler as a “partisan hack,” citing a report suggesting he gave advice to GOP lawmakers seeking an audit of the 2020 presidential election. 

The Office of Auditor General (OAG) is the chief fiscal officer of Michigan and, since the early 1960s, has served as the independent oversight arm of the state legislature. Ringler, who has held the post for a decade, oversees both financial and performance audits for all state agencies and departments. 


That means reviewing a range of topics, from the efficacy of distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic to how the state’s civil rights department has been slow to investigate discrimination claims.

Whitmer in February unveiled an $80.7 billion spending plan for next fiscal year. With pandemic funding running dry, her proposal was down slightly from the record $83 billion version she signed last year. 

What wasn’t immediately clear, however, was why the administration recommended a 28% budget cut for the OAG. The office had seen annual increases of between 1% and 5% every year since 2015.

A spokesperson for the governor declined multiple requests for comment.

Last year’s OAG budget clocked in at around $30 million. If Whitmer’s proposed $8.3 cut is approved by lawmakers, it would leave the agency at funding levels not seen in more than a decade according to an appropriations summary from the office itself.

Lauren Leeds, spokesperson for the State Budget Office, told Bridge Michigan that the governor’s recommendation for next fiscal year “includes a placeholder” that could be used for additional OAG funding “based on need.”

But when asked if that was a common approach for an OAG budget proposal, Leeds paused for an extended period of time, laughed, then sighed before saying: “I can get back to you on that one.” 

Checking homework

Republicans are crying foul over the proposed cut, arguing it is another attempt to avoid oversight by Whitmer, who in 2020 vetoed unanimous whistleblower protection legislation, citing constitutional concerns.

Whitmer doesn't want anyone "checking her homework," House Minority Leader Matt Hall said in a recent statement.  

“In a budget proposal spending more than $80 billion, this cut appears to be a calculated and intentional attack on the only remaining nonpartisan oversight body,” added Hall, R-Richland Township.


Whitmer’s proposed budget cut is not set in stone. Lawmakers in the House and Senate, who are returning from a legislative spring break this week, are in the process of creating their own budgets. Final versions will be negotiated between chambers and the Whitmer administration in coming months.

Ringler, the auditor general, is warning lawmakers that Whitmer’s proposed cut would “significantly impair the oversight we provide to you and the public.

“It would also result in many instances of conflict with existing state law,” Ringler said in a March letter to legislative leaders, citing annual audits his office is required to complete, including one federally-required review that would put $34 billion in federal funding "at risk without our completion."

Michigan’s auditor general for the past 10 years, Ringler was unanimously appointed to the position in 2014 with the backing of Republicans who controlled both chambers at the time, along with minority Democrats. 

The Legislature chooses the auditor general position once every eight years. State law enables the auditor general to conduct post-financial and performance audits of all state government branches, departments, offices, boards and more. Those audits are then posted online once completed.

For years, the position mostly remained out of sight and mind for many Michiganders. But amid a series of high-profile audits during the COVID-19 pandemic, divisions emerged between Ringler, legislative leaders and the Whitmer administration. 

Whitmer’s health director in 2022 unsuccessfully urged Ringler to make “significant edits” to an audit report that identified 2,386 previously unreported COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, according to emails obtained by Bridge Michigan.

Reporting from the Michigan Advance has since revealed House Republicans, who controlled both legislative chambers until 2022, sought Ringler’s help in drafting requests for audits of the 2020 election amid continued unfounded claims by former President Donald Trump. 

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes this month blasted Ringler as a “partisan hack doing the bidding of MAGA extremists hell-bent on attacking the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.” 

“It’s a disgrace that state taxpayer dollars have been squandered on an office using its status to play partisan politics and silence the voices of millions of Michigan voters,” she said in a separate statement on Monday.

Rehashing ‘dead voter’ claims

The 2020 election audit was underway prior to Republican lawmakers contacting the OAG, spokesperson Kelly Miller told Bridge Michigan. 

In an emailed statement, Miller said part of being a nonpartisan auditor means that anyone, regardless of any affiliation, “can approach the office seeking … assistance with presenting an audit request in its most concise and useful form.”  

“We have the autonomy to decide whether to move forward with the request or not,” she said, “and that decision contains several factors including our level of resources, other audits in progress or planned, the perceived risk of the issue at hand, and opportunities for improvement.”

Ringler was reappointed to his position in May 2022 by voice vote in the Senate and a 79-26 vote in the House.

Among those voting against Ringler’s reappointment in 2022 was state Rep. Julie Brixie, D-Okemos, who said at the time she was "unable to vote for the reappointment of the auditor general due to the apparent partisanship I have encountered with some of the audits they have engaged in."

Brixie accused Ringler of conducting the election audit without “statutory authority” and criticized him for failing to audit former House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Republican who remains under investigation for alleged financial impropriety but has denied any wrongdoing. 

The election audit found that more than 99.9% of all ballots in Michigan’s 2020 presidential election were legally cast and properly counted, debunking Republican concerns that dead voters somehow contributed to now-President Joe Biden’s 154,000-vote win in the state. 

Ringler ultimately said the state’s post-election audit procedures were "sufficient" to ensure election integrity, "with exceptions."

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson initially balked at the election audit but later touted the findings, saying it proved “Michigan’s 2020 election was secure and the outcome accurately reflects the will of the voters.”

Legislative Democrats have not yet said whether they will sign off on Whitmer’s proposed cuts to the auditor general’s office. 

Attempts to reach Rep. Felicia Brabec of Pittsfield Township and Sen. John Cherry of Flint, Democratic chairs of the House and Senate general government appropriations committees, were unsuccessful. 

But Amber McCann, spokesperson for House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, called the governor’s recommendations “just that, a recommendation.” 

“The Speaker looks forward to reviewing all the work currently underway as part of the appropriations process,” McCann told Bridge Michigan. “He has faith in the appropriations chair and subcommittee chairs to craft a sound fiscal plan for the state.”


Rosie Jones, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, added it was lawmakers’ responsibility “to ensure that dollars are being allocated wisely to programs and projects that are proven to be effective.” 

But that still leaves lawmakers like state Rep. Cam Cavitt, R-Cheboygan, wondering if Whitmer’s proposed cut is a “warning to all other state agencies” that the administration is willing to cut budgets to protect her own reputation.”

“The Auditor General must remain fully funded. Their important work verifies the integrity of state agencies and uncovers mismanagement at all levels,” Cavitt said in a recent statement. 

“Just because that mismanagement occurred under the Whitmer administration doesn’t mean she should have the authority to slash their ability to operate.”

How impactful was this article for you?

Only donate if we've informed you about important Michigan issues

See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:

  • “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
  • “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
  • “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.

If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now