Courser posts campaign bill that raises questions

Detroit News staff

State Rep. Todd Courser resumed using Facebook this week to respond to the scandal surrounding him and Rep. Cindy Gamrat after a rare 10-day social media silence by the outspoken Lapeer Republican. It ended up raising more questions than it intended to answer.

On Tuesday, Courser posted an image on Facebook of a $1,250 invoice he received from Bellwether Strategies – the political consulting firm headed by his former aides Joshua Cline and Ben Graham. Their testimony and documents led to a state House investigation accusing Courser of possibly violating House rules and state law.

Courser said the invoice was an example of the “many thousands of dollars” he paid Cline and Graham “over the course of several years” as he ran for political office before winning a seat in the state House in November.

But Courser failed to mention something about this particular bill, said Cline, who resigned from the combined Gamrat-Courser office in April after opposing the lawmakers’ romance and “unprofessional” conduct.

“He never paid the bill,” Cline told The Detroit News on Wednesday. “It’s still an outstanding balance.”

Dated May 26, the $1,250 expense was described as “2015 CD Voter List.”

Courser wanted to purchase a voter list for the entire 10th Congressional District as he tested the waters this spring about whether to run for retiring U.S. Rep. Candice Miller’s seat, Cline said.

Cline said he purchased the voter list through a vendor and sold it to Courser at cost with no mark-up. Cline also said he and Graham have not done any paid political work for Courser since the November election.

Courser has not created a congressional campaign committee, and the expense would fall under the $5,000 threshold for reporting to the Federal Election Commission.

On a July campaign finance report for his House re-election committee, Courser listed $10,960.95 in debt to Bellwether Strategies from expenses incurred in late November.

However, Cline said Courser wrote him a check for the work in early January through the campaign committee. But Courser’s campaign finance records show no such expense being made since November.

“I think there’s an error in the reporting,” Cline said.

Courser’s aunt, Tracy Paulus, is the treasurer of his campaign committee and could not be reached for comment. The campaign bookkeeper is Courser’s mother, Georgeann Courser, who hung up on a reporter Wednesday when asked about the campaign finance reporting discrepancy and later said in an email she was not in a position to answer questions.

Gov. Kasich upset with Mount McKinley’s new name

President Barack Obama set off a political firestorm that raged from Alaska to Ohio this week when he renamed the country’s tallest mountain from Mount McKinley back to the native name of Denali.

In 1896, an explorer renamed the 20,310-foot summit after then-presidential candidate William McKinley of Ohio. The U.S. government formally recognized the name change in 1917 — and it’s apparently been a source of political contention between Alaska and Congress ever since.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is seeking to replace Obama in the White House, rushed this week to the defense of McKinley — the nation’s 25th president who was assassinated in 1901 — during his visit to Michigan.

“I don’t like that idea. It was named Mount McKinley by an explorer and should be kept that,” Kasich told reporters during a Tuesday campaign stop in Lansing. “What I’ve been saying is, I’m going to end up being president, so don’t change the signs, because I’ll have to change them back.”

Radio ads stirs up debate about attendance

Democrats are running radio ads in the northern Michigan district of U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, alleging that Benishek missed “nearly a third” of his committee meetings and hearings on the House Committee on Veteran Affairs during his first two terms in Congress.

The ad is read by state Sen. David Knezek, a former Marine, who says of Benishek, “when he did show up, he voted time and again against veterans, service members and their families” – without specifying how the congressman did so.

Knezek, a Democrat from Dearborn Heights, urges northern Michigan voters to call Benishek and “tell him he should have shown up for work.”

Ted Prill, a spokesman for Benishek’s campaign, called the ads a partisan attack that is “off base and distorted.”

“It defies reality to attack Dr. Benishek’s efforts for our veterans,” Prill said. “He has literally spent the his entire career before and in Congress working for veterans.”

Prill noted that, in the past week, Benishek held two Veterans Assistance Fairs in Traverse City and Grayling, and on Tuesday chaired a Health Subcommittee hearing in Sault Ste. Marie to analyze obstacles to veterans seeking health care in rural areas, along withRep. Julia Brownley, D-California.

Benishek, a former surgeon for the Department of Veterans Affairs at Iron Mountain, is running for a fourth term representing the 1st Congressional District and faces a potential challenge from Lon Johnson of Kalkaska, who until recently chaired the Michigan Democratic Party. Also, Jerry Cannon, the retired Kalkaska County sheriff who lost the last election to Benishek, announced last week on Facebook he would run for the Democratic nomination.

The Democrats tallied Benishek’s attendance using transcripts and attendance records published by the U.S. Government Publishing Office for all hearings, markups and meetings of the full veterans committee and of Benishek’s subcommittees.

They found Benishek missed 33 of 84 meetings, or 39 percent, of those with attendance records during 2011-14. The Democrats assumed Benishek attended another 38 meetings for which attendance hasn’t been published. Accounting for all meetings with known and unknown attendance, Benishek missed at least 27 percent.

Members sometimes miss committee hearings and meetings to attend hearings of other committees on which they serve.

Contributors: Chad Livengood and Melissa Nann Burke