Gretchen Whitmer’s campaign could be forced to return millions in excess donations: Report

Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s campaign could be forced to donate or return millions of dollars in excess donations, according to a lawsuit filed by state Republicans.

According to the Detroit News, Republicans claim to have identified some $3.4 million of Whitmer’s campaign may have been collected “outside the state’s normal donor limits as soon as January,” citing a court filing on behalf of Jocelyn Benson, the Michigan secretary of state.

The Wednesday filing is in response to the Michigan Republican Party’s federal lawsuit which challenges Whitmer’s utilization of a state policy that is decades old on recall elections that feature larger contributions over the traditional $7,150 limit for individual donors in order to grow campaign war chests, the paper reported.

Lawyers in the office of Attorney General Dana Nessel who are working on behalf of Benson said that the recall policy was not unfair to Republican gubernatorial candidates because if there isn’t a recall then the excessive funds “must be returned” or given to a charity or party.

If there are no recall petitions on file by Jan. 1, then any potential recall move is considered “concluded,” according to Benson’s legal team, because under state law there can’t be any recalls filed against governors serving their last year in office.

“The governor would be required to disgorge any contributions received in excess of the MCFA (Michigan Campaign Finance Act) limits at that time — months before even the April 19, 2022 deadline for Republican gubernatorial candidates to file their nominating petitions,” says the filing from the Michigan GOP.

“An important question will be what Whitmer’s campaign eventually does with the excess funds, said Simon Schuster, executive director of the nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network, which tracks money in state politics. If they’re donated to a political organization, they could still be used to benefit the governor’s reelection, Schuster noted,” the Detroit News reported.

The governor’s campaign said it raised $8.65 million this year as of July 20, which is a record amount of money for a governor serving this point in an election cycle. But of that, about $3.4 million came in via contributions that were above normal state limits.

The new filing “confirms the campaign’s fundraising has been in accordance with the law,” Maeve Coyle, the Whitmer campaign’s communications director, told the outlet.

“The MI GOP continues to attack Gov. Whitmer in every way they can think of, including recall efforts and frivolous lawsuits,” Coyle added, according to the paper. “The campaign will continue to fight back attempts to attack the governor while following the guidelines set by precedent.”

Whitmer has faced several recall efforts, though none of them have gotten any traction, the paper adds. She faced a great deal of pushback from Republicans and critics of her lockdown policies at the height of last year’s COVID-19 pandemic, including a number of protests at the state capital in Lansing.

The GOP-controlled legislature voted over the summer to remove her emergency authorities claimed during the pandemic after the state Supreme Court ruled that a 1945 law she was operating under violated the Michigan constitution.

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