Thanedar puts nearly $6M of own cash in governor’s race

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Democrat Shri Thanedar this month pumped another $2.7 million of his own money into his campaign for governor, according to a new state filing showing continued self-funding by the Ann Arbor entrepreneur.

Thanedar has struggled to gain a higher profile in the early race for the Democratic nomination, but his personal fortune helped him make another big splash Tuesday as he filed his quarterly campaign finance report a day before the deadline for 2018 candidates.

The founder and former CEO of Avomeen Analytical Services has committed almost $6 million to the race since creating a committee in April, nearly matching the total term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder gave to his own campaign during the 2010 Republican primary.

“My goal is simply to disrupt the Democratic primary process,” Thanedar told The Detroit News, arguing a competitive race should be good for the party.

“It’s looking like people in the establishment want to just do the coronation of (former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen) Whitmer like we did in 2014 when Mark Schauer was the candidate.”

Whitmer, the presumed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, is expected to file a report Wednesday showing she raised more than $765,000 for the quarter and $2.3 million overall, according to her campaign.

Former Detroit health department Abdul El-Sayed, who had raised $1 million through July 20, was among other candidates also expected to file Wednesday.

Thanedar put more than $3 million into the race earlier this year, but his latest state report shows his campaign has spent about 9 percent of it or $281,835 to date, including roughly $50,000 on online advertising through companies like Facebook and Google. He ended the period with $5.67 million in cash on hand.

“It’s one thing to donate or loan your campaign that money, but it’s another to actually spend it on the campaign,” said Democratic consultant Howard Edelson, noting Thanedar’s self-funding is in the form of personal loans his campaign could return.

“If nothing else, it’s great for publicity to give him standing in the campaign. One would have to ask, if he didn’t loan himself this money, who would be talking about him as a viable candidate?”

Thanedar said Tuesday he was busy working with film crews who could use the footage for future digital or television advertising, which could help him reach primary voters, many of whom he admits do not know him.

“My name ID is not very high in Michigan, as I was busy running small businesses and creating jobs,” said Thanedar, who made and lost a fortune in Missouri before moving back to Ann Arbor in 2010.

Thanedar reported raising $1,416 in outside contributions from 19 individual donors between July 21 and Oct. 20, pulling in less than the $2,000 he paid to a fund-raising consultant on Sept. 15.

Whitmer’s campaign said she will report more than 13,100 contributions from more than 7,800 donors, citing “an incredible movement of local grassroots support.”

“The people of Michigan are ready for change, and they know that she'll work with anyone who wants to solve problems, and take on anyone who stands in our way,” Whitmer spokeswoman Annie Ellison said in an email.

A businessman and scientist, Thanedar has argued that his self-funding means he would not be beholden to any interest groups if elected governor.

Self-financed candidates have a mixed track record in recent Michigan gubernatorial elections. Snyder won in 2010, but fellow Republican Dick DeVos lost his bid in 2006 after he and his family poured $35.5 million into the race.

Snyder first paid for television advertising in February 2010, roughly six months out from the August primary, and he relied on other donors to fund his general election campaign, said Craig Mauger of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

“It’s safe to say (Thanedar) is on pace to blow past what Snyder gave himself,” Mauger said.

Thanedar’s self-funding may benefit other Democrats by lifting a $2 million cap on primary spending for gubernatorial candidates who accept available public funding. In a July letter, the Michigan Bureau of Elections told Democratic candidates the primary spending cap had been waived.

Other Democrats and Republicans running for governor are expected to file their latest campaign finance reports on Wednesday ahead of the 5 p.m. deadline.