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Schuette calls complaint about campaign ads ‘pathetic’

East Lansing — Attorney General Bill Schuette said Friday a watchdog group’s complaint about his political supporters not disclosing the source of $3.6 million in TV ads is a “hollow, pathetic” attempt to smear him ahead of a future election.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C., filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service this week against Michigan Advocacy Trust, a political group that aided Schuette’s re-election last year with so-called issue ads featuring Schuette and attacking his Democratic opponent.

During a wide-ranging interview Friday on WKAR-TV’s “Off The Record, Schuette speculated that CREW is attacking his allies because he could be a candidate for another office someday — the strongest hint the Midland Republican has given lately about his 2018 gubernatorial aspirations.

“Everybody needs to know this is kind of a redo of an Elmore Leonard ‘Get Schuette’ book,” Schuette said, referring to the late author’s “Get Shorty” novel.

“We’ll see more people trying to attack me. And why is this? Because the liberal Democrats, the Democratic front groups, see me as a seasoned candidate. I have a strong record. They think I’m going to run for office, so they’re trying to rough me up.”

Schuette said he welcomes the electoral support of third party groups, even those that aren’t required to disclose their donors.

When asked whether he’s comfortable with so-called “dark money” funding TV commercials favorable to his candidacy, the state’s chief law enforcement officer said state and federal campaign finance disclosure laws are beyond his control.

“I follow the law. I disclose my donors,” Schuette said. “In many years of public service, I have not had one ethical blemish.”

Michigan Advocacy Trust ran television ads last year featuring Schuette talking on screen about his efforts to fight human trafficking and get thousands of abandoned Detroit rape kits tested for DNA evidence.

“Anyone who wants to fight human trafficking and find justice for victims of rape, I’m going to work with them,” Schuette said. “And those who attack me, I just kind of do the Taylor Swift – I just shake it off.”

CREW spokesman Jordan Libowitz said the group routinely questions the ethics of Democratic members of Congress. Libowitz questioned Schuette’s claim he didn’t control the Michigan Advocacy Trust’s ad campaign.

“If he had no control over the ads, why do they prominently feature him, in his living room, talking directly to the camera?” Libowitz said. “He says we’re “trying to rough (him) up,” but all we say is that a group he claims to have no control over should reveal its donors.”

Schuette’s comments about the CREW complaint came a day after the liberal group Progress Michigan accused his office of attempting to shield state agencies from public records requests by demanding exorbitant fees.

Progress Michigan produced an email it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request in which a Treasury Department official said in April that Schuette’s office recommended a “fee approach” to answering the group’s broad request for public records.

The Treasury Department demanded $52,000 for all communications between agency officials and one of Gov. Rick Snyder’s education advisers, records show.

Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said his group isn’t out to get Schuette, as he contends.

“This is not a conspiracy against Bill Schuette, other than the fact he’s implicated by the emails that said it was a directive from his office,” Scott said.

On the TV show, Schuette continued to sidestep questions about whether he desires to be Michigan’s next governor.

“Some folks are in a lather” for 2018, Schuette said. “I tell everybody just to relax. I’m at peace with what I’m doing.”

During the interview, Schuette voiced opposition to new legislation that would end the practice of automatically prosecuting all 17-year-old offenders as adults and prohibit placing any teenagers in state prisons with adults.

Schuette also continued to argue that legislation changing the parole system will put violent criminals back on the streets.

House Bill 4138 would tighten the guidelines for the state’s parole board to deny an inmate release from prison in a move aimed at releasing non-violent offenders after they’ve served their minimum mandatory sentences.

The legislation awaits Senate action after the House approved it Oct. 1 on a bipartisan 67-39 vote.

County prosecutors like Wayne County’s Kym Worthy and Genesee County’s David Leyton — Schuette’s 2010 Democratic opponent — also have opposed the parole reform legislation.

Schuette was asked Friday if he trusts officials in the Department of Corrections to evaluate whether inmates pose a threat to public safety if they’re released after serving their mandatory minimum sentences.

“Here’s who I trust: the cops, the sheriffs, the Kym Worthys, the David Leytons – who’s a great guy – the people on the front lines trying to provide safety to the people of Michigan,” Schuette told reporters. “They think it’s risky.”

Schuette also accused supporters of parole reform of being “elitist.”

“I don’t think legislators want to be responsible if one of these people got out early, committed a heinous crime,” Schuette said. “It would be tragic.”

Schuette’s contention the bill would let dangerous criminals get out of prison early is “just not true, said Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth Township.

Heise, the bill’s sponsor, said the changes in parole guidelines would not affect current inmates. It would only apply to future felons, he said.

“Everyone still has to serve their minimum sentence,” Heise said Friday. “We’re talking about people who are in prison ... longer than they need to be.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com

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