Mystery group attacks GOP challenger to Gamrat

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — A new and mysterious political group called Michigan’s Voice sent mail advertisements to voters in Allegan and Lapeer counties over the past week targeting two leading candidates in state House Republican primaries to fill the seats of former Reps. Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser.


Voters in Allegan County received mailers from Michigan’s Voice saying Allegan County Commissioner Jim Storey “supported Obama’s failed stimulus program.” The glossy mailers are the latest sign of a contentious race for the seat from which Gamrat was ousted last month.

Before this week, a political group affiliated with the powerful DeVos family had focused its efforts on attacking Gamrat and boosting the candidacy of Mary Whiteford of South Haven ahead of Tuesday’s primary in the 80th House District.

In Lapeer County, Michigan’s Voice has sent mailers over the past week targeting GOP candidate Gary Howell for voting to place a road funding millage on the ballot as a Lapeer County road commissioner.

Howell is seen as a leading contender for Courser’s seat in a crowded 11-candidate field. The DeVos-affiliated Great Lakes Education Project has previously sent out mail advertising bashing Courser and praising nurse Jan Peabody, the Lapeer County GOP chairwoman.

Negative advertising

“It may be legal, but Michigan’s Voice is nothing. It’s just a front,” said David Forsmark, a political consultant working on Howell’s campaign. “There’s no website for Michigan’s Voice saying here’s what we stand for.”

The claim by Michigan’s Voice that Storey supported Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus program is rooted in a vote Storey took on Holland’s public works board to apply for a federal grant for testing underground carbon sequestration at the city’s coal power plant.

“We didn’t get the grant,” Storey said Thursday.

Holland is in the midst of building a new natural gas-burning power plant without any federal aid, he said.

“Not only did we not get stimulus money, we went the other direction and did it on our own,” Storey said.

The Michigan’s Voice mailers contain the Okemos law office address of Republican attorneys Richard McLellan and Eric Doster.

McLellan is listed as the nonprofit corporation’s resident agent, and it was was incorporated on Monday, state records show.

“Richard McLellan should be ashamed of himself,” Forsmark said.

Storey said the advertisements began arriving in voters’ mail boxes on Saturday.

The advertisements targeting Howell began arriving in Lapeer County mailboxes last Thursday, Forsmark said.

“Before it was even incorporated, they were operating,” Storey said.

McLellan initially said he had nothing to do with the organization when contacted Thursday by The Detroit News.

After a reporter explained the organization was incorporated under his signature, McLellan replied: “You’re right. I am involved in that.”

“I was an incorporator,” McLellan said. “I don’t know exactly what they’re doing. Eric Doster asked me to do it.”

Doster, who also is general counsel for the Michigan Republican Party, did not return a message Thursday seeking comment.

Negative advertising

McLellan, whose operation of another political nonprofit is now the subject of an Internal Revenue Service complaint, could not explain why he would create a nonprofit corporation without knowledge of what it would be used for.

“God knows I’ve signed hundreds of articles (of incorporation),” said McLellan, a veteran GOP barrister in Lansing.

Storey doesn’t buy McLellan’s explanation.

“Richard McLellan is an accomplished attorney,” Storey said. “I can’t believe he would sign papers for something he didn’t know about.”

Non-profit 501(c)4 corporations can legally engage in so-called voter education efforts by sending out politically tinged advertisements that stop short of telling voters for whom to cast their votes.

The Michigan’s Voice mailers urged voters to call Storey and tell him “Michigan families do NOT support Obama’s policies.”

“You ought not to flood those voters’ mailboxes with lies,” Storey said. “You ought to have an honest debate. I think it demonstrates total disregard for the electoral process.”

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