Governor hopeful Whitmer touts Senate work in first TV ad

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Gretchen Whitmer, East Lansing, Democrat

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer released her first television advertisement Tuesday with a 30-second segment that touted her early jobs and time as state Senate minority leader.

In the ad, Whitmer speaks about working at a lumberyard, Target and a buffet, before expounding on her time in the Senate, where she said she supported Medicaid expansion and an increased minimum wage.

“Now, I’m running for governor because I’ve had it with Republicans like Donald Trump blowing up your health care while your costs go up and up,” she said. “And because it’s about time we fix the damn roads.”

The advertisement is the first from Whitmer’s campaign. With less than two months left before the Aug. 7 primary, both of Whitmer's Democratic opponents and three Republican candidates have already spent thousands on broadcast TV advertising. 

Two weeks ago, Build a Better Michigan, a group aligned with Whitmer, launched a five-week, $1.8 million advertising campaign featuring the East Lansing Democrat. 

The “issue ads,” which feature Whitmer but do not directly advocate for her election, are being reviewed by the state Bureau of Elections after the Michigan Republic Party complained that the ads violated the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

Build a Better Michigan President Mark Burton has called the complaint a “frivolous” political attack.

Michigan law allows some groups to avoid state reporting requirements for ads that do not directly advocate for or against the election of a candidate. While the ads from Build a Better Michigan don’t tell viewers to vote for Whitmer, the Michigan GOP said they go beyond what’s legal by identifying Whitmer as a candidate for governor.

Republicans argued that should the ads be considered an independent expenditure they would require an independent expenditure report within 10 days, a form that Build a Better Michigan did not submit.

In a letter sent Friday to Build a Better Michigan, the Bureau of Elections asked the group to explain whether having the phrase “Candidate for Governor” next to Whitmer in the videos constitutes advocacy.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, recently announced its own $1.7 million ad campaign to attack Whitmer.

One of Whitmer's Democratic opponents, Shri Thanedar, had spent an estimated $1.91 million on broadcast TV ads through early June, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Detroit health director also competing for the Democratic nomination, had spent roughly $35,000 on broadcast ads.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who is running for the Republican nomination, had aired roughly $421,000 in broadcast TV ads, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, and two political action committees had spent more than $400,000 on pro-Calley TV ads.

As of early June, the campaign for GOP governor hopeful Attorney General Bill Schuette had aired $76,000 in broadcast ads, while a nonprofit and super political action committee had spent a combined $544,000 on broadcast ads, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Dr. Jim Hines, a Saginaw obstetrician running for the Republican nomination, has aired about $5,000 in TV ads, while state Sen. Patrick Colbeck hasn’t aired any broadcast TV ads.

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