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Illegal Contributions, Campaign Collusion, and Criminal Immunity
How Gretchen Whitmer Broke Michigan Campaign Finance Law and Got Away With it

LANSING, Mich., February 12, 2019–  The following is a research briefing from the Michigan Republican Party outlining the knowing and intentional violation of Michigan campaign finance law by Gretchen Whitmer, her campaign “Whitmer for Governor,” and her dark money special interest group “Build A Better Michigan.”  These violations could have resulted in a multi-million dollar fine and possible jail time for many involved. In addition, our research shows that there was not only collusion between the organizations, but that they shared the same paid staff. In a backroom settlement, Whitmer and her co-conspirators were fined less than 2 percent of their illegal political expenditures and granted immunity from criminal prosecution.   

Whitmer cheated, and despite her campaign promises to be “more open, transparent and accountable to Michigan taxpayers” in order to “infuse integrity in governance and earn back public confidence,” Whitmer has started her service as Michigan’s governor under a cloud of corruption.  

WHITMER BROKE THE LAW

Secretary Of State Benson Ruled That Governor Whitmer And Build A Better Michigan Violated Michigan Campaign Finance Law.

Secretary Of State Benson Ruled That Gretchen Whitmer And Build A Better Michigan Violated Michigan Campaign Finance Law By Coordinating Political Ads That Expressly Advocate Her Candidacy.

(Jocelyn Benson, Letter To Build A Better Michigan And Whitmer For Governor, 2/5/19)

SOS Benson Signed A Conciliation Agreement Allowing Build a Better Michigan To Pay A Insignificant Fine And Absolving Whitmer From Paying Any Penalties For Her Violations Of Campaign Finance Laws.

WHITMER RECEIVED MILLIONS IN ILLEGAL CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS

Through Coordination With Build A Better Michigan On Express Advocacy Ads, Whitmer Accepted Millions In Illegal In-Kind Campaign Contributions

Whitmer Received Millions In Illegal Campaign Contributions, Funneled Through Build A Better Michigan:

Whitmer Received More Than $2.4 Million Dollars in Illegal Campaign Contributions Through Ads Run By Build A Better Michigan. “Build a Better Michigan spent more than $2.4 million in 2018 and ran a series of pro-Whitmer television ads that it described as a form of ‘issue advocacy’ traditionally exempt from the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.” (Jonathan Oosting, “Benson: Pro-Whitmer Ads Violated Campaign Finance Law,” The Detroit News, 2/8/19)

Build A Better Michigan Received Numerous Labor Union and Corporate Contributions, All Illegally Spent Through Coordination With The Whitmer Campaign. “The United Auto Workers and the Teamster’s DRIVE committee each contributed $250,000, according to the Internal Revenue Service report. Michigan Laborers District Council kicked in $151,000 and the Regional Council of Carpenters $150,000.” (Jonathan Oosting, “Group Reveals Donors Behind Whitmer Ad Campaign,” The Detroit News, 7/23/18)

  •  “The Livonia-based Cochran, Kroll and Associations law firm gave $20,000, Haas & Goldstein of Farmington Hills gave $10,000 and Sakthi Automotive Group USA gave $5,000.” (Jonathan Oosting, “Group Reveals Donors Behind Whitmer Ad Campaign,” The Detroit News, 7/23/18)

According To Analysis Of Build A Better Michigan’s IRS Tax Forms, Build A Better Michigan’s Average Donation Exceeded $53,000. Individual Donor Limits In Michigan Are $6,800 Per Cycle. (Build A Better Michigan, IRS Tax Forms, Accessed 2/11/19)

Build A Better Michigan Also Accepted Individual Contributions Which Far Exceeded Campaign Contribution Limits, All Spent Illegally In Coordination With Whitmer’s Campaign. “The disclosure report shows Ann Arbor attorney Mark Bernstein, who is helping Whitmer vet potential running mates, gave $32,000 to Build a Better Michigan. Bell’s Brewery owner Larry Bell of Kalamazoo contributed $10,000.” (Jonathan Oosting, “Group Reveals Donors Behind Whitmer Ad Campaign,” The Detroit News, 7/23/18)

Benson’s Own Findings Confirm That These Funds Were Illegally Spent Through Coordination And Used Illegally For Ads Supporting Whitmer’s Campaign. “Build a Better Michigan spent more than $2.4 million in 2018 and ran a series of pro-Whitmer television ads that it described as a form of ‘issue advocacy’ traditionally exempt from the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. But some of those ads violated the law by identifying Whitmer as a ‘candidate for governor,’ Benson said in a letter to attorneys for Build a Better Michigan and Whitmer’s campaign.’ Benson also ruled that the group's spending could not be considered an “independent expenditure” because of apparent coordination with Whitmer’s campaign. ‘The fact that BBM obtained video and audio of the candidate speaking directly to the camera from a predetermined script is sufficient to indicate that coordination occurred,” the secretary of state wrote. The interpretation, as applied to specific facts of this case, is ‘necessary to set an important and clear precedent that furthers and promotes transparency in our elections,’ Benson said. Michigan law states that issue advocacy cannot include phrases like ‘Smith for governor.’  Inserting the word ‘candidate’ between Whitmer's name and those words is ‘indistinguishable,’ Benson said. ‘Both phrases constitute express advocacy.’” (Jonathan Oosting, “Benson: Pro-Whitmer Ads Violated Campaign Finance Law,” The Detroit News, 2/8/19)

WHITMER COULD HAVE FACED SIGNIFICANT FINES AND FELONY CRIMINAL CHARGES

By Violating Campaign Finance Laws, Whitmer Could Have Been Held Accountable For Misdemeanors, Felonies, And Thousands Of Dollars In Fines

By Ruling BBM And Whitmer Coordinated In These Ads, Benson Could Have Held Whitmer Accountable For The Following Crimes And Fines:

Based On Benson’s Ruling, Whitmer Knowingly Received Excessive Illegal In-Kind Contributions Through The Coordinated Express Advocacy Ads, Which Violated The Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

  •  The Whitmer Campaign Violated Section 33 Of The Campaign Finance Act by Failing To Report The In-Kind Contributions Associated With The Ads. The Penalty For Violating Section 33 Could Have Led To Thousands Of Dollars In Fines, A Misdemeanor, And Imprisonment Up To 90 Days. A Prosecutor May Also Prohibit That Candidate From Assuming The Duties Of Public Office. (Michigan Campaign Finance Act, Section 33, 1976)
  •  The Whitmer Campaign Violated Administrative Rule 35 By Knowingly Accepting An In-Kind Corporate Contribution, Amounting In A Civil Fine Of No More Than $1,000. (http://dmbinternet.state.mi.us/DMB/ORRDocs/AdminCode/1300_2013-102ST_AdminCode.pdf)
  •  The Whitmer Campaign Violated Section 52 Of The Campaign Finance Act By Knowingly Receiving An In-Kind Contribution In Excess of Contribution Limits. This Is Punishable By A Fine Of No More Than $1,000 And/Or Imprisonment Of 90 Days. (Michigan Campaign Finance Act, Section 52, 1976)

Benson’s Ruling Also Finds That, Through The Coordinated Express Advocacy Ads Funded By Illegal Corporate And Union Contributions, Whitmer Also Violated The MCFA.

  •  The Whitmer Campaign Violated Section 54 Of The Campaign Finance Act By Illegally Using Corporate And/Or Labor Union Contributions. This Is A Felony Punishable By A Fine No More Than $5,000 And/Or Imprisonment Up To Three Years. (Michigan Campaign Finance Act, Section 54, 1976)
  •  The Whitmer Campaign Violated Section 24 Of The MCFA By Failing To File A Statement Of Organization. This Is A Misdemeanor Punishable By A Fine Up To $1,000. (Michigan Campaign Finance Act, Section 24, 1976)
  •  The Whitmer Campaign Violated Section 47 Of The MCFA By Failing To Include The Phrases “With Regulated Funds” And “Authorized By Gretchen Whitmer For Governor” On The Ads. This Is Misdemeanor Punishable By A Fine Of No More Than $1,000 And/Or Imprisonment Up To 93 Days. (Michigan Campaign Finance Act, Section 47, 1976)

PAST PRECEDENT SHOWS WHITMER SHOULD HAVE BEEN FINED MILLIONS OF DOLLARS

Based On Established Precedent, Whitmer/BBM Should Have Been Fined Millions Of Dollars, But SOS Benson Fined Whitmer/BBM Only 2 Percent Of What Was Spent On Her Campaign Ads, All Paid For By BBM’s Illegal Corporate/Union Funds:

“As Part Of A ‘Conciliation Agreement’ With Michigan Director Of Elections Sally Williams And The Whitmer Campaign, Build A Better Michigan Agreed To Pay The $37,500 Settlement To The State Within 60 Days.” (Jonathan Oosting, “Benson: Pro-Whitmer Ads Violated Campaign Finance Law,” The Detroit News, 2/8/19)

In 2016, A Similar Violation Saw The Respondents Agreed To Pay 100% Of What It Spent. “In 2016, a GOP group called the Michigan Jobs and Labor Foundation agreed to pay a $17,696 fine two years after running two so-called issue ads featuring Sens. Dale Zorn and Ken Horn that included “for State Senate" graphic. The group called it a mistake by a vendor, pulled the ads off the air and self-reported the matter to the state. The Republican group was fined the same amount it had illegally spent,but Build a Better Michigan will only pay a small fraction of its total spending, said Tony Daunt of the Michigan Freedom Fund.” (Jonathan Oosting, “Benson: Pro-Whitmer Ads Violated Campaign Finance Law,” The Detroit News, 2/8/19)

BENSON’S SWEETHEART IMMUNITY DEAL: A SLAP ON THE WRIST

SOS Benson Allowed Gov. Whitmer To Walk Free, Allowing BBM To Pay Her Paltry Fine And Granting Her Immunity For Her Campaign Finance Crimes

Secretary Of State Benson’s “Agreement” Allowed For BBM To Pay The 2% Fine:

Benson’s Conciliatory Agreement Allowed BBM To Pay The Fine, While Whitmer Is Not Required To Pay Any Penalty.

(Secretary Of State Benson, Conciliation Agreement With Build A Better Michigan And Gretchen Whitmer For Governor, 2/7/19)

Furthermore, Benson’s Deal Gives Whitmer Immunity From Any Other Fines Or Criminal Penalties.

(Secretary Of State Benson, Conciliation Agreement With Build A Better Michigan And Gretchen Whitmer For Governor, 2/7/19)

 


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