Mich. GOP scraps contact rule ahead of convention

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The Michigan Republican Party on Wednesday scrapped a plan to limit contact between candidates and delegates to this month’s state convention, removing a restrictive requirement that has drawn the ire of conservative activists.

Officials on Monday sent a new licensing and confidentiality agreement to candidates vying to make the fall ballot as nominees for offices such as the state Supreme Court and State Board of Education, requiring them to sign the form if they want to access the party’s list of contact information for delegates who will vote at the Aug. 26 convention.

The contract would have prohibited candidates from contacting voting delegates more than eight times — three times by mail, three by direct call and two by robocall — or risk court damages of up to $50,000, the potential penalty for any violation of the agreement.

Party officials told The Detroit News the provision was inspired by complaints from past convention delegates who were inundated by candidate calls. But grassroots activists called it an attempt to “control” the flow of information and influence the nominating process.

The provision was ultimately removed from a modified contract the party distributed Wednesday.

“We talked to some folks and decided to undo the limit on the number of contacts,” said Michigan GOP spokeswoman Sarah Anderson. “It was very simply an unintended misunderstanding that we were happy to remedy.”

The larger confidentiality agreement is “not unusual” among state parties and is an attempt to protect delegates from having their information sold for other political lists, said Michigan GOP Executive Director Steven Ostrow. While delegates file affidavits when running for the posts, he said not all counties provide their contact information with the public, making it a potentially valuable commodity.

The modified contract still prohibits candidates from using the delegate voter file after the Aug. 26 convention, and it includes a series of fake or “salted” names that the party will use to determine if conditions of the agreement have been violated.

State Board of Education candidate Nicolette Snyder, who criticized the contact limits as hurting lesser-known candidates like herself, said Wednesday she would not sign the contract despite the changes.

“It’s really about access, and I think the political process should be as accessible as possible” said Snyder, a nursing educator who lives in Whitmore Lake. “Unless you agree to everything you won’t get access, whereas in the past you’ve been able to use the information as you see fit.”

Fellow state Board of Education candidate Tom McMillin, a former state legislator and conservative from Rochester Hills, declined to discuss the agreement, calling it a matter for the party to work out.

Still, the new confidentiality agreement appears to have stoked the fires of a divide between the Republican “establishment” and the grassroots.

David Dudenhoefer, chairman of the 13th Congressional District Republican Committee, said the agreement is “suspect” even if candidates are not limited to eight delegate contacts, a provision he had called “utter garbage.”

Matt Maddock, a conservative activist from Milford, said he’s concerned the confidentiality agreement could set a precedent for future convention elections where delegates will vote on state chair or Republican National Committee members, giving incumbents an unfair advantage.

Ostrow denied the new contract is an attempt to marginalize the grassroots, characterizing it as the exact opposite.

“We’re just taking into consideration concerns of delegates from past conventions,” he said. “We’re trying to limit some of those concerns and show that we’re actually listening to the grassroots.”

joosting@detroitnews.com