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Lansing — Michigan’s gubernatorial primary was the most expensive in the state’s history, according to new campaign disclosure reports filed Thursday. 

The seven Democratic and Republican primary candidates combined to spend more than $35 million through the Aug. 7 primary, topped by $12.5 million in spending by Ann Arbor businessman Shri Thanedar, a self-funder who finished third in the Democratic primary.

The tally likely is to grow when Lt. Gov. Brian Calley files his post-primary disclosure report, which was not yet in the state system more than an hour after the soft 5 p.m. deadline.

The previous record for gubernatorial primary spending was in 2006, when incumbent Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Republican businessman Dick DeVos did not face primary threats but still spent a combined $32.6 million before the general election season officially began.

In 2010, the last year with an open gubernatorial seat, seven major party candidates combined to spend $18 million in the primary. Current term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder, who won the Republican contest, spent $7.6 million, much of that his own money.  

Democratic nominee Gretchen Whitmer, who won this year’s three-way primary with 52 percent of the vote, has raised more than $8 million in private and public funding this cycle and spent $6.5 million through the primary.

Whitmer has outpaced Republican nominee Bill Schuette, but the attorney general enters the general election contest with a small cash advantage. He reported $1.53 million in unspent funds as of Aug. 27, compared to $1.52 million for Whitmer.

However, Schuette’s disclosure report shows his campaign took out a $312,699 loan from Chemical Bank on Aug. 2, less than one week out from the primary. The campaign repaid $75,000 of the loan on Aug. 7 but records do not show any additional repayments. Spokesman John Selleck said the loan was in anticipation of “slow-arriving public funds” he qualified for.

Schuette had raised roughly $6.5 million in private and public funds and had spent around $4.9 million through the primary. He and Whitmer both have outside groups spending on their behalf, including a super political action committee supporting Schuette and a 527 political organization running ads that feature Whitmer.

Former Detroit Health Director Abdul El-Sayed, who finished second in the Democratic primary with 30 percent of the vote, raised $525,409 in private contributions over the final month of his campaign and nearly $4.5 million for the cycle, an impressive haul for the 33-year-old first-time candidate.

Combined with public funding, El-Sayed spent more than $5.3 million in the primary.

Whitmer’s top donors between July 22 and Aug. 27 were union PACs, including the United Auto Workers, which gave her a maximum $68,000 contribution, and four separate Teamsters groups that gave her $10,000 each 10 days after the primary.

Eleven supporters gave Whitmer $6,800, the maximum contribution for an individual, including Consumers Energy Executive Vice President Rejji Hayes and Broadway producer Edward Snowdon of New York. Her campaign said 70 percent of the donations she has received in 2018 were for under $100. 

The former state Senate Minority Leader from East Lansing spent $2.5 million in the final weeks of the primary, mostly on an advertising blitz that included nearly $1.8 million for television ad time, $122,834 for ad production, $172,985 for media consulting and $84,813 for digital ads across platforms like Hulu and Pandora.

Schuette’s top donors in the latest reporting period included the Michigan Republican Party, which gave him $100,000 five days after the primary. A Delta Dental PAC gave him $11,500 and a Miller Canfield law firm PAC gave him $10,000.

Twenty-eight individuals each gave Schuette the maximum $6,800 in contributions, including businessman Dan DeVos, who had helped Calley raise money in the primary, and Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser.

Thanedar, the top spender in the race, appears to have put $11.4 million into his campaign. His campaign reported $12.7 million in personal loans from Thanedar but had refunded him $1.3 million in March.  

The first-time candidate told The Detroit News last month that he had “no regrets” about the campaign and said the experience was “well worth it.”

Saginaw obstetrician Jim Hines, who finished last in the Republican primary, put about $2.6 million of his own money into the race. His campaign ended the post-primary period with $4,016 in cash reserves.

State Sen. Pat Colbeck, R-Canton Township, reported raised $535,786 for the cycle and spending $499,669.

joosting@detroitnews.com

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