LANSING—Michigan Rep. Larry Inman insists he’s innocent, is “shocked” he’s facing charges of soliciting a bribe for a campaign donation and has no intention of resigning.
The Williamsburg Republican doesn’t deny, however, writing detailed text messages that a federal grand jury used to bring felony charges against him.
“I did not do those things that they have accused me to do, and my integrity and honesty is above any approachability on any bribe,” the three-term lawmaker said Thursday in an interview with Bridge Magazine.
“Really? Do you think that I would stoop that low? No, never.”
Inman’s lawyer told Bridge late Thursday that Inman’s texts were not demanding money in exchange for the lawmaker’s vote.
A federal grand jury accused Inman Wednesday of asking for a campaign donation of more than $5,000 from the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights union in exchange for a vote against the prevailing wage repeal proposal that most Republicans supported — and which was eventually successful — last summer.
In the indictment, the grand jury cites text messages between Inman and both a lobbyist representing the union and Lisa Canada, the union’s political director, in the days preceding the House’s vote on prevailing wage. Both Inman and the union confirmed Canada was the recipient of the text messages, but the union did not comment further on the allegations.
“We only have 12, people to block (the vote.) You said all 12 will get $30,000 each to help there (sic) campaigns. That did not happen, we will get a ton of pressure on this vote,” Inman wrote, according to the indictment.
“I would suggest maxing out on all 12 (representatives’ campaign committee contributions), or at least doubling what you have given them on Tuesday, asap,” he continued, adding: “We never had this discussion.”
Michigan’s prevailing wage law required the state to pay union-scale wages on construction projects. Many Republicans opposed the law because they argued it artificially inflated taxpayer costs for state projects. Many Democrats and unions warned that repealing the law would lead to decreased wages for workers overall and would prevent unions from being able to compete with non-union contractors.
The union did not contribute to Inman’s campaign after receiving the text messages, and Inman voted to repeal the law a few days later.
Inman spoke with Bridge Thursday in his office across the street from the state Capitol building, surrounded by black-and-white portraits of pilot Amelia Earhart, whose plane vanished over the Pacific in 1937. He’s spent years studying and collecting artifacts related to her life and disappearance.
When asked what he meant by his text messages, Inman said “we have an explanation for them,” but said only his lawyer would discuss the details.
Inman said he wanted to vote to keep the prevailing wage law because he grew up in a union household — his mother worked for Ford and his father for Chrysler. However, “I couldn’t find one person in Grand Traverse County that told me, Larry, vote no,” he said.
He implied that was the reason he reached out to the union organization; he was looking for a way to justify a “no” vote he would have liked to take. Inman, however, would not answer specific questions about the text messages.
Chris Cooke, Inman's Traverse City-based lawyer, told Bridge Thursday, "it certainly wasn't an effort to solicit funds," adding, "you know, it's perfectly legal for a candidate for elected office to accept endorsements. As part of that endorsement process in Michigan, you can also have up to $10,000 from a PAC group contributed to your campaign coffers. That's perfectly acceptable."
When asked for clarification as to whether Inman was seeking to accept an endorsement from the MRCCM via campaign funds, Cooke said, "I'm not going to let you cross examine me."
Inman's intent "was certainly not to solicit money in exchange for votes," Cooke said. "He was trying to report back to somebody who he thought was a friend, and the group that he supported in this referendum as to what the progress was on the (House) floor."
Despite texts indicating he was seeking checks on behalf of a dozen lawmakers, Inman told Bridge he did not talk to any Republican representatives about the vote or “about checks from unions,” he said.
He said he doesn’t have “the slightest idea” who the other 11 representatives were that he was referring to in his text message to the union.
Asked how he came up with the number, he said, “you will know that soon.”
Seven Republicans voted against the prevailing wage repeal, and many of them did receive donations from the MRCCM in the months and weeks ahead of the prevailing wage vote. None of them received donations around the date of Inman’s texts.
Several representatives said they were surprised by the news of the criminal charges against Inman and that they believe Inman acted alone, MLive reported Thursday.
Some representatives said Inman had a history of quickly changing his mind on votes, the Lansing political website Gongwer reported, which made him an easy target for lobbyists.
Inman chalked that up to being a moderate. “I would see the viewpoint of the Democrats and I would see the viewpoints of the Republicans and I would see the viewpoint of my constituents,” he said. “So I have to balance and weigh those out.”
Inman faces charges of extortion, bribery and lying to an FBI agent when he was first questioned about his communications with the union. If convicted of all three, he would face up to 35 years in prison.
Inman said Thursday he did not intentionally lie to the FBI: “I was forthcoming and cooperative” in his multiple conversations with FBI officials beginning last August, he said, “and I am deeply concerned that they would file these charges without talking to my attorney and myself beforehand.”
Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield has called upon Inman to resign, saying “it is in the best interest of this institution” that he step down. Chatfield promptly stripped Inman of his committee assignments after learning of the indictment Wednesday.
Inman said he has no plans to leave office.
“I think that would be an admission of guilt,” Inman told Bridge. “It isn’t going to go that way. I plan on defending myself.”
Chatfield told reporters Thursday that Inman’s text messages were “out of line and inappropriate,” and that Inman “will have a couple of days to make that decision (on whether to resign), because I think he needs to reevaluate his position.”
Chatfield did not say Thursday whether he’d consider pursuing expulsion, which would require a two-thirds vote in the House.