Gretchen Whitmer May Have to Return Millions in Excess Campaign Contributions

Rev. Wendell Anthony and Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist watch as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoes voting legislation proposed by state legislators in front of members attending the annual NAACP Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021 at the TCF Center. Naacp
Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s (D) campaign may have to return or donate $3.4 million in contributions collected beyond the state’s typical donor limits by January, according to a new court case.

Whitmer may have to return or donate $3.4 million of her campaign contributions due to donations exceeding the standard $7,150 limit for individuals in Michigan. Otherwise, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s “recall exception” is illegal, the Michigan Republican Party argues in a lawsuit filed against Benson.

Michigan law states that $7,150 is the maximum contribution candidates can receive from a given donor during an election cycle. However, officeholders facing a recall effort are excepted from the maximum, and are allowed to collect donations with no limit. Whitmer is not currently facing a recall, so her campaign is restricted to the $7,150 contribution limit.

The secretary of state’s court filing responds to a Michigan Republican Party federal court lawsuit which challenged the Democrat incumbent’s alleged violation of the state’s campaign finance laws.

Lawyers for Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office are reportedly working on the case for Benson. The filing noted that if no recall petitions were filed against the governor by January 1, 2022, the excess funds “must be returned” or donated to a local charity or party. The start of next year is the deadline because state law prohibits recall petitions against a governor in their final year of a gubernatorial term.

The filing said:

As of this date, none of the recall petitions that have been approved have returned valid signatures within the required 180 days, and no new recall petitions have been approved since September of 2020.

If there are no additional recall petition filed by January 1, 2022, any possible recall effort will necessarily be “concluded” because no new position could be filed. The Governor would be required to disgorge any contribution received in excess of the MCFA limits at the time — months before even the April 19, 2022 deadline for Republican gubernatorial candidate to file their nominating petitions.

The lawsuit claims that Benson’s “recall exception” in administering Michigan law violates both free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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

“Gretchen Whitmer has illegally raised funds in excess of Michigan’s contribution limit by claiming a recall exception for a recall that doesn’t exist,” said the Michigan Republican Party Communications Director Gustavo Portela to Breitbart News. “We’ll fight in court to ensure that campaign finance rules continue to be applied fairly across the board for all candidates running for Governor because no one is above the law.”

Last month, the Michigan Freedom Fund filed a campaign finance complaint with the Bureau of Elections against Whitmer regarding ten donors from her “$100,000 Club,” alleging her donors made contributions to Whitmer’s reelection campaign that exceeded the state’s legal limit. The governor had ten donors that gave $100,000 or more to her reelection campaign. Half of the donors, including Illinois Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker; prominent Michigan Democrat and attorney Mark Bernstein; and billionaire activist Patricia Stryker; gave $250,000 or more.

The case Weiser v. Benson, No. 1:21-cv-816 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Jacob Bliss is a reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter.

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