Conservative group attacks Whitmer in new $1.7M ad campaign

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Americans for Prosperity ad

Lansing — Americans for Prosperity on Wednesday launched a $1.7 million television ad campaign attacking Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer by linking her to former Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

The conservative group funded by the powerful Koch brothers announced the three-week spending plan one day after Whitmer allies launched their own five-week, $1.8 million ad campaign to help promote her.

The Americans for Prosperity ad argues Whitmer “failed Michigan” as a legislator by voting to raise the income tax and tax services as part of a 2007 budget deal to end a partial government shutdown under Granholm, the state's last Democratic governor.

Whitmer also voted to raise gas taxes, the commercial notes. She supported multiple road funding plans as Senate minority leader, including a failed 2015 ballot proposal backed by Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Snyder.

Whitmer spokesman Zach Pohl called the new ad a “distraction” from issues that matter to working families. He suggested billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch “are attacking Gretchen because they know she's the strongest candidate to beat Bill Schuette in November,” referencing the attorney general now seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Republicans have consistently attempted to link Whitmer and Granholm. AFP national spokesman Bill Riggs said Wednesday that Whitmer backed Granholm’s “failed agenda,” and Michigan state Director Pete Lund said Whitmer championed policies “that defined Granholm’s lost decade.”

The new ad does not include any images of Whitmer but shows footage of Granholm reflected in a rear-view mirror. 

But “the truth is, Gretchen took on Gov. Granholm repeatedly in Lansing," Pohl said. "She stood up to Granholm's cuts to schools, retirement and health care, and voted against Granholm's property tax hikes."

Whitmer has publicly distanced herself from Granholm. In a recent bipartisan gubernatorial debate, she noted that she opposed the former governor’s move to use School Aid Fund revenue to backfill general fund budget holes for universities and community colleges.

The 2007 budget deal Whitmer supported came as Michigan’s declining economy was beginning to crater in a prelude to the national Great Recession. She and other lawmakers later voted to repeal the service tax before it took effect.

Michigan’s income tax rose from 3.9 percent to 4.35 percent, but the law mandated the rate drop back to 3.9 percent by 2015. Snyder and the GOP-led Legislature froze the tax rate at the current 4.25 percent in 2011.

Whitmer entered the gubernatorial race as the front runner for the Democratic nomination and has locked up most union endorsements. But the former Senate minority leader is fighting to fend off two aggressive challengers in the run-up to the Aug. 7 primary.

Ann Arbor entrepreneur Shri Thanedar has pumped nearly $6 million of his own money into the race and had run $1.9 million in broadcast TV ads through June 4, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Former Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed is endorsed by several progressive groups.

Whitmer's allies with the Build a Better Michigan fund on Tuesday began airing "issue ads" that feature the East Lansing Democrat but do not directly advocate for her election.

In the first of at least two planned commercials, Whitmer touts her role in raising Michigan's minimum wage and expanding Medicaid health care eligibility while voting to "repeal the retirement tax" by restoring an exemption eliminated by the GOP majority in 2011.