Big bucks flowing in 2018 race for Michigan governor

Jonathan Oosting, Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan’s 2018 gubernatorial race is off to an expensive start, with declared and likely candidates already raising or saving nearly $9 million combined, according to campaign finance reports filed Tuesday.

Former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, the presumed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, has raised more than $1.5 million since January, while little-known Ann Arbor entrepreneur Shri Thanedar has pumped more than $3 million of his own money into his campaign in an aggressive bid to raise his profile and compete in the party primary.

On the Republican side, Attorney General Bill Schuette has stockpiled more than $1.5 million he could use for his likely campaign for governor. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, also considering a run in the GOP primary, has more than $1 million in cash on hand that could be transferred to a gubernatorial committee.

Early fundraising totals for the 2018 race appear to be outpacing recent election cycles, according to Craig Mauger of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Contested GOP and Democratic gubernatorial primaries in 2010 cost around $19.3 million combined.

“The world of campaign financing has changed dramatically in just the last eight years, so it’s not surprising they’re raising more,” Mauger said. “At the same time, when you’ve got one candidate putting in $3 million of his own money, that just increases the fundraising pressure on everyone else.”

Thanedar remains a virtual unknown statewide, but his willingness to bankroll his own campaign adds a new wrinkle to the race to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, another Ann Arbor businessman who spent nearly $6 million on his own longshot campaign eight years ago.


Gretchen Whitmer

“I’m willing to put my own money in, and I’m passionate about what I’m doing, but that is where the comparison stops,” Thanedar told The Detroit News. “Gov. Snyder said he wants to run government like a CEO… but we need to run the state with a lot of compassion and a lot of heart.”

Records filed with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office show Thanedar has personally loaned his campaign $3.26 million since early April. He reported spending roughly $34,000 through July 20, leaving him nearly $3.18 million in cash on hand.

His personal spending means any other Democrats in the race who decide to accept public funding for their campaigns do not have to abide by a $2 million spending cap in the primary election.

Whitmer has amassed a $1.14 million war chest as she looks to consolidate support after high-profile Democrats, such as U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint Township and University of Michigan Regent Mark Bernstein, decided not to enter the race.

The East Lansing Democrat reported raising $1.53 million through July 20 and has spent roughly $392,000 so far this cycle, primarily on research, staff and other campaign expenses.

Emily’s List, a national group that promotes female political candidates, contributed $66,000 to Whitmer, who also reported sizeable donations from union groups. The Michigan State Utility Workers gave her $64,000.00 and her own Whitmer Leadership Fund added $51,000.

But the Whitmer campaign also claimed unrivaled grassroots support, listing more than 6,000 financial supporters. More than 86 percent of the contributions she received were for $100 or less, according to the campaign, and more than 84 percent came from within Michigan.

“Gretchen Whitmer has built the largest movement of local grassroots support in this race because Michiganders know she puts people ahead of politics, and she’s going to shake up the status quo in Lansing,” Whitmer campaign manager Jerid Kurtz said in a statement. “As a former legislator and prosecutor, Whitmer has built an unprecedented coalition of early support because she’s the only candidate with a proven record fighting for the things that matter.”

Abdul El-Sayed, the former director of the Detroit health department, on Monday reported he had raised $1,016,740 since launching his campaign in late February, a notable total for the 32-year-old who has courted voters in the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, acknowledging few voters know who he is at this stage of the race, Thanedar said he hopes his investment will help him run a strong statewide campaign without devoting lots of time to fundraising. He is not ruling out additional loans in the future.

Thanedar reported just one contribution from an outside source — $100 from a man in Washington, D.C. — and listed another $33,982 in personal in-kind contributions to cover campaign expenses, including website registration and research.


Shri Thanedar

A native of India who studied at the University of Michigan, Thanedar made and lost a fortune in Missouri, where a bankruptcy judge reportedly forced him to sell his chemical services company amid struggles during the Great Recession.

He moved back to Ann Arbor in 2010 and founded Avomeen Analytical Services. He sold a majority share of the company in December, and while terms of the deal were not disclosed, Thanedar said in June he sold it “for a lot of money” and was doing well financially.

The 62-year-old was named 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year by multinational finance giant Ernst and Young and made local headlines in December for giving his employees a collective $1.5 million in holiday bonuses.

“I’ve had a lot of success in Michigan, and I could not have done what I did anywhere else in the world,” said Thanedar, describing his own youth as one of poverty. “…There’s nothing better I can do with my money than give back and serve Michigan.”

Democrat Bill Cobbs of Farmington Hills, a former Xerox executive, also kicked in some of his own money. Cobbs reported raising $39,277 during the period, including more than $35,000 in personal loans. He spent most of his funds, however, and ended the period with less than $2,000 in cash on hand.

While the Democratic field appears to be largely set, the Republican race is still taking shape as Schuette and Calley continue to position themselves for gubernatorial runs without actually declaring their candidacy.

Schuette has already raised nearly $2 million this cycle and built up a $1.55 million war chest. He reported contributions of $905,240 between Jan. 1 and July 20 to his “Schuette for Michigan” attorney general candidate committee, which he could transfer to a gubernatorial fund.

The Midland Republican listed roughly $135,000 in traditional and incidental expenses, including accounting services and catering for several events and fundraisers. He raised $178,810 at a single fundraiser last month in Birmingham and ended the period with $1,552,571.93 in the bank.

Schuette got $8,750 from the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers and $7,500 from a DTE Energy political action committee. Top individual donors included businessman Roger Penske, Van Conway and Nora Moroun, who each gave him maximum $6,800 contributions. Former Gov. John Engler and his wife, Michelle, each contributed $2,500.



“So many people are supportive of Bill and encouraging him to serve,” Schuette spokesman John Sellek said in a statement. “Folks tell Bill that Michigan families cannot afford to keep settling for less than the best, and Bill absolutely agrees with them. Michigan is hungry to be first again.”

Calley reported raising $478,227 during the latest reporting period and has pulled in $1.17 million so far this election cycle. The Portland Republican reported spending $84,155 and has roughly $1 million in cash on hand in his “Brian Calley for Michigan” lieutenant governor campaign committee.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce political action committee gave Calley $10,000 in May, and the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers gave him $8,350 this month. He raised more than $100,000 at a Bloomfield Hills fundraiser in June.

Calley gave $8,000 to his own candidate committee. Other donors include Wolverine Worldwide President Sid Jansma and businessman Peter Karmanos Jr., who were among 20 individuals who gave maximum $6,800 contributions.

Conservative state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton Township, reported raising $61,486 since filing his campaign paperwork less than eight weeks ago on May 31. He received maximum $6,800 donations from three individuals, including Canton Public Library IT director Rudie Noble.

Colbeck spent $38,448, mostly on consulting services, and ended the period with $23,038 in the bank.

Dr. Jim Hines, a Saginaw obstetrician, is largely funding his own campaign. The longshot Republican kicked in $220,000 of the $234,358 he reported raising for the period. But his campaign spent more than $238,245 and had just $6,057 left in the bank as of July 20.

Hines has now loaned his campaign more than $386,000 of the $423,583 he has raised since filing for the race in early 2016.

Southfield Attorney Geoffrey Fieger, the 1998 Democratic nominee who has flirted with another run, donated $5 to his still-active campaign committee on June 21, according to a new filing. The campaign owes Fieger more than $5.6 million for personal loans he made 19 years ago during his unsuccessful bid to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. John Engler.