Schauer (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Lansing — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer’s decision last month to apply for nearly $1 million in public money for an August primary without an opponent has spurred a Republican lawmaker to propose outlawing the practice.
State Rep. Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt Township, introduced legislation last week that would prohibit future gubernatorial candidates from tapping into the state’s public campaign fund if they don’t have an opponent.
But the proposed law would not stop Schauer’s efforts to secure $990,000 in public funds this year because it wouldn’t take effect until Jan. 1, if it passes, Leonard said.
Gov. Rick Snyder also is running unopposed in the Republican primary but is not seeking public funds. He began the year with a 3-to-1 cash advantage over Schauer, with $4 million in the bank compared with the $1 million in cash Schauer had on hand, campaign finance records show.
Schauer’s campaign has said it needs public funding for the expenses of running a statewide campaign, such as office space, employees and supplies.
Leonard said he was “troubled” by Schauer’s use of the state’s campaign finance law and hopes the Republican-controlled Legislature would quickly pass his bill this year. Leonard said the fact his wife, Jenell, is an aide to Lt. Gov. Brian Calley played no role in his motivation to pursue the legislation.
Schauer, a former state legislator and congressman from Battle Creek, is not the first gubernatorial candidate to seek public money without a primary opponent.
Former Republican Gov. John Engler dipped into the public funding trough in the 1994 primary, despite lacking a challenger. Former Democratic Gov. Jim Blanchard tapped the fund in an opponent-less 1990 primary before losing to Engler in the general election that year, according to state Bureau of Elections records.
“The fact is, public financing is a voluntary system that has been used by Democrats and Republicans alike, including John Engler,” Schauer spokesman Zack Pohl said.
But precedent doesn’t make it a good idea, Leonard said.
“It was bad public policy then, it’s bad public policy now, and this is something we should stop, starting in the next election cycle,”he told The Detroit News.
Michigan’s public funding for political campaigns comes from a voluntary checkoff box on state income tax returns. By accepting public funds, Schauer will be limited to spending $2 million through the Aug. 5 primary.
Greg McNeilly, president of the conservative group Michigan Freedom Fund, said the legislation “will make sure future candidates show Michigan families and their pocketbooks a little more respect.”
“Schauer’s decision to seize a million dollars in taxpayer funds for an uncontested primary perfectly sums up what he thinks of taxpayers,” said McNeilly, a Republican political consultant.
With no other Democrat publicly campaigning for the governor’s office, Schauer is the party’s presumed nominee. April 22 is the deadline to file at least 15,000 valid voter signatures to seek a party’s nomination in the primary.