'Poor optics': Romulus mayor returns $20K in campaign cash used for wedding, tithes

Romulus — Romulus Mayor LeRoy Burcroff is defending the use of campaign funds on his daughter's 2013 wedding, saying the event attracted campaign members, but said he returned the money and other campaign funds to his campaign fund "because of the poor optics."

Burcroff, who is not running for re-election, said through attorney Daniel J. Wholihan that he and his wife spent about $20,000 of their own money to pay for their daughter's wedding in 2013. He had won re-election three days before and had invited donors, volunteers, supporters "and many constituents to the wedding."

"The mayor 'opened the bar' to everyone at the venue as an inclusive 'victory party' for his landslide election win," Wholihan said in a statement.

Romulus Mayor LeRoy Burcroff speaks before an event. Burcroff repaid his campaign committee for campaign expenses paid for his daughter's wedding and church donations, according to the mayor's attorney.

The tab was about $4,500, and campaign money was used to cover it, according to the attorney. 

"This was the basis of the mayor’s good faith belief that he was using (campaign) funds for a permitted victory party," Wholihan wrote. "Under the advice of a Michigan campaign finance expert, Mayor Burcroff remitted the entire cost of this disbursement back to CTE (committee to elect) account on 9-18-2020 because of the poor optics and the likelihood it could be used in negative campaigning." 

But that concern is off the table since Burcroff is not running for re-election this year.

"After 24 years as a public official with the city, Mayor Burcroff has decided to not seek re-election so he can devote more time with his business pursuits and to spend more time with his grandchild," read the statement.

The Michigan Secretary of State's office said Monday it has been investigating allegations around Burcroff's campaign spending "for months," prior to the first news reports. It declined further comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

WXYZ-TV first reported that Burcroff had returned the money and had raised questions about the contributions.

Across all elective offices in Romulus, candidate interest is so low that there will be no August primary.

The mayoral race has two candidates, Alan Lambert and Robert McCraight. Only one candidate each is running for city clerk and treasurer. Twelve candidates are campaigning to fill seven city council seats.

According to the Romulus City Clerk's website, there is no primary election "when the number of candidates who file for elective office does not exceed twice the number to be elected to that office."

Wholihan also responded to Detroit News questions about Burcroff's donations to churches, saying the mayor is invited to speak on matters "going on in his city."

"After consulting with a campaign finance compliance expert, however, the money from his candidate committee donated to his own church was remitted back to the committee due to the likelihood it could be used in negative campaigning," Wholihan wrote.

The attorney said the $20,000 returned to the campaign committee is "more than the amount of the bar bill and church donations."

How much more is not immediately known. Wholihan could not immediately be reached Monday.

jdickson@detroitnews.com