Electioneering complaint against Snyder dismissed

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing —Secretary of State Ruth Johnson's office has dismissed an electioneering complaint filed against Gov. Rick Snyder for using his bully pulpit in the annual State of the State address to advocate for a "yes" vote on the May sales tax ballot proposal.

Former Grand Traverse County Commissioner Jason Gillman filed a complaint with the state Bureau of Elections last week alleging Snyder had illegally used public resources to advocate for the passage of Proposal 1, which is part of a complex plan to boost funding roads, schools, cities and low-income workers' tax credits.

"Vote yes, so we can have safer roads," the Republican governor said during the Jan. 20 televised speech. "... Vote yes so we can have stronger schools and local government. Vote yes so we can have tax relief for the lower income people."

Gillman, a tea party activist and blogger at, said the governor's advocacy of increasing the sales tax to 7 percent constitutes a violation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

Johnson's office Wednesday dismissed Gillman's complaint, saying the governor has a right to express his views on matters of state tax policy and transportation funding.

"The governor's solicitation of a favorable vote in the upcoming May election is limited to a single paragraph in a 14-page speech transcript or approximately 30 seconds of an address that exceeded 45 minutes in length," Bureau of Elections legal specialist Melissa Malerman wrote Wednesday in a denial letter to Gillman.

Gillman isn't the only Republican who thinks Snyder crossed a line in the State of the State speech.

GOP political strategist Greg McNeilly, who has long been a critic of Gillman's tea party wing of the party, fanned the flames of Gillman's complaint during a taping of WKAR-TV's "Off The Record" program last Friday.

McNeilly said it was "inappropriate" for Snyder to use the televised speech to advocate for a "yes" vote on Proposal 1.

"Using government resources to advocate what is a political issue, what is a ballot issue should be regulated by a ballot committee and the campaign finance act," McNeilly said. "I think he violated the spirit of (the law)."

McNeilly sidestepped a reporter's follow-up question about whether Johnson should fine the governor.

Campaign finance watchdog Rich Robinson thought McNeilly's criticism of Snyder's advocacy was thin.

"I think it's a stretch to think it's a violation," said Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. "If that's what he thinks, he should file a complaint."

Snyder did not wait for Johnson's office to rule on Gillman's complaint to continue publicly endorsing the May 5 ballot campaign, which has had a rocky start.

Speaking Tuesday at the Michigan Society of Association Executives' conference in Lansing, Snyder addressed the issue head on.

"I've already heard there is a some interesting commentary about what I can say or not say and let me be simple — I encourage you to vote yes in May," Snyder told a room full of lobbyists and association executives. "And the simple grounds for that is, if you want to be safe on our roads, it requires a yes vote."

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