Feds fine Michigan Dems for campaign cash errors

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The Michigan Democratic Party has agreed to pay a $6,800 fine after the Federal Election Commission discovered a series of reporting errors and campaign finance violations during the 2016 cycle, according to a recent settlement.

The federal fine is the second in as many years for the state party but significantly smaller than last summer’s record $500,000 penalty for under-reporting cash contributions at bingo fundraisers it stopped operating in 2014.

The new settlement, reached in late February, stems from disclosure reports the FEC said included excessive, prohibited or otherwise impermissible contributions or transfers in a federal campaign fund maintained by the state party.

The FEC also found reports filed by Michigan Democrats contained “mathematical discrepancies” and said the state party failed to properly itemize some contributions, transfers and disbursements.

“The Michigan Democratic Party takes compliance with federal election law very seriously,” Chief Operating Officer Lavora Barnes said in a statement.

“When some minor issues were brought to our attention, we took steps to correct them immediately and will continue to work with the FEC to ensure our reporting and compliance is transparent and accountable. We have taken measures, including increased training, upgraded technology, and increased oversight, to ensure that we avoid any issues going forward.”

In the settlement document, the FEC indicated it began investigating the Michigan Democratic Party because of information it discovered during “the normal course” of carrying out its oversight duties.

The state party acknowledged it had “reporting challenges” during the 2016 election cycle, which culminated with Republican President Donald Trump’s surprise victory in Michigan en route to his Electoral College triumph.

Among the discrepancies flagged by the FEC in earlier documents, Michigan Democrats reported $64,100 in transfers from the “Hillary Victory Fund” in 2015 but only itemized $51,930 in transfers on an accompanying memo.

In addition to the $6,800 fine, Democrats agreed to amend relevant reports, respond to requests for additional information and attend a FEC training conference or webinar. The state party said it has made procedural changes to ensure future compliance with federal rules.

The Michigan Republican Party said the new fine and settlement makes clear that “under no circumstances can we trust Michigan Democrats with the reins of government.”

“This is a Democratic Party in total disarray,” said state GOP spokeswoman Sarah Anderson. “They have continually violated even the most basic of rules with little to no consequence.”

FEC records show Michigan Democrats have paid off at least $180,000 of the $500,000 fine the party agreed to last year as part of a conciliation agreement over discontinued bingo fundraisers.

In that case, former Chairman Lon Johnson self-reported past party violations that pre-dated his time in office and were discovered during an internal probe. Current Chairman Brandon Dillon took over the state party in July 2015.