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Term-limited Schuette fundraiser suggests gov race plan

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Attorney General Bill Schuette is starting his work week Monday with a fundraiser at a Washington, D.C., hotel for his attorney general campaign committee, even though he’s constitutionally barred from seeking another term in his current office.

The Midland Republican, who was re-elected in November, is holding a fundraising reception at 8 a.m. at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Washington, according to an invitation obtained by The Detroit News.

Schuette’s fundraising activity 54 days into his second four-year term suggests he is laying the groundwork for a 2018 campaign for governor, which is viewed as a likely next step for the former congressman, agriculture director, state senator and appellate court judge. Schuette has sidestepped questions about whether he’s eying the Governor’s Office.

“Being term-limited doesn’t impede fundraising,” said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a money-in-politics watchdog group. “Presumably in Schuette’s case, he’s raising money for a gubernatorial campaign.”

The fundraiser coincides with the Republican Attorneys General Association’s winter meeting Sunday and Monday at the same hotel.

The “Bill Schuette for Attorney General” fundraiser invitation included suggested contribution levels of $250 for individuals, $450 for political action committees and $1,000 for “on duty” status. The host committee for Schuette’s fundraiser includes several federal lobbyists with Michigan ties, including Delta Air Lines senior vice president Andrea Fischer Newman, a Republican University of Michigan regent.

Schuette’s spokesman said the attorney general is following the state’s campaign finance law, which allows elected officials to keep collecting donor checks long after they are barred from seeking re-election.

“Like other officeholders, Attorney General Schuette follows the letter of the law while ensuring that certain expenses resulting from holding office aren’t paid for by taxpayers, and does it in a transparent fashion,” Schuette spokesman John Sellek said in an email to The News.

Schuette’s lame-duck fundraising activities are not unusual, especially among term-limited legislators who “never stop” holding fundraisers in their final terms, Robinson said.

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, raised $18,426 in direct cash contributions during her final four-year term in office, though she didn’t hold any formal fundraisers like Schuette is doing, records show.

Schuette, who raised $3.8 million in the last election cycle, is hosting an out-of-state fundraiser much earlier than his immediate predecessor did before running for governor.

Former Attorney General Mike Cox did not actively raise money for his attorney general campaign in 2007, the year following his re-election to a second term.

Cox held no fundraisers and received just two donations for $1,000 and $35 in 2007, records show.

But in 2008, Cox began holding fundraisers again as he geared up for an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2010. In 2009, Cox transferred nearly $411,000 from his attorney general campaign to his gubernatorial campaign committee, records show.

Sometimes politicians continue raising money to pay off old campaign debts.

Former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land raised nearly $232,000 in 2007, the first year of her second and final term as the state’s chief elections officer. Land’s first fundraiser was held just 23 days into her second four-year term and she hauled in $35,000.

But unlike Cox, Land didn’t transfer her secretary of state campaign cash over to short-lived campaigns for governor and lieutenant governor in the 2010 election cycle. Much of the Land campaign’s second-term fundraising was used to repay Land and her husband for the nearly $1 million they loaned the campaign in 2002, records show.

But Schuette doesn’t have the kind of campaign debts that Land or Gov. Rick Snyder, another self-financing millionaire, have incurred in winning statewide office.

After defeating Democrat Mark Tottenin in November by 8 percentage points, Schuette’s campaign reported having $162,623 cash on hand after the election, enough to cover $24,403 in listed debts owed, campaign records show.

Michigan’s campaign finance law does not require Schuette or any other statewide elected official to disclose their fundraising activities for the first half of 2015 until July 27.

Robinson said the practice of term-limited legislators and statewide elected officials being able to fundraise in their final term should be outlawed.

“But what’s the point of being a politician if you’re not raising money?” Robinson said. “You’re not relevant.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter.com/ChadLivengood