Dem AG candidate fails to disclose fundraiser details

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Democratic attorney general candidate Dana Nessel failed to properly disclose details of several political fundraisers in 2017, but her campaign says it is working to amend state reports to include the publicized events.

Invitations and notices reviewed by The Detroit News show Nessel may have raised campaign cash at as many as nine fundraisers in 2017, including three at addresses associated with private law firms. Her campaign only listed required details for two events in quarterly and year-end reports filed with the state.

“Every dollar contributed by our supporters has been accounted for and reported,” spokeswoman Angela Wittrock said last week in response questions from The News, noting the Nessel campaign disclosed contributions from individual donors at the events. “We overlooked including a few fundraisers on the separate form, and are in the process of filing an amendment to correct that.”

Michigan law requires political candidates to document all fundraisers — including the address, venue, expenses and total receipts — rather than just report individual donations from the event.

The disclosure “gives the public more information about how a candidate for public office is raising money, and who is hosting the event,” said Craig Mauger of the nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network. “It’s valuable information for the public to know who is opening their home to a potential candidate for a key office.”

Current state officeholders reported more than 600 political fundraisers last year, Mauger said. His analysis of state records showed nearly half of those events were held in downtown Lansing on the day the Michigan Legislature was in session.

Nessel used her campaign website to advertise a series of fundraisers that were not properly reported to the state, including October events at the Hertz Schram law firm in Bloomfield Hills and the Nacht & Roumel law firm in Ann Arbor.

Pat Miles, competing with Nessel for the Democratic attorney general nomination, on Tuesday filed a 68-page complaint with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office, accusing Nessel of violating several provisions of state campaign finance law.

In addition to missing fundraiser details in her disclosure reports, the Miles complaint alleges events hosted by two incorporated law firms amount to prohibited corporate contributions and questions a $500 campaign payment to Nessel with a listed purpose of “to candidate.”

“These violations are negligent at best,” Miles said in a statement. “It should alarm all of us that someone who wants to be Michigan’s top law enforcement officer either doesn’t take the law seriously, or doesn’t believe our laws should apply to her.”

The complaint also accuses Nessel of violating state election law by helping organize a statewide bus program to carry supporters to an upcoming April 15 convention in Detroit, where party members will vote to endorse an attorney general candidate.

The Michigan election code prohibits candidates from paying to transport voters to an election, but the party convention “does not immediately appear” to be an election as defined by state law, Secretary of State Fred Woodhams told The News last week.

The Nessel campaign shot back at Miles for the complaint, suggesting he could improve his candidacy if he spent less time reviewing her financial filings and more time researching issues relevant to the office he’s seeking.

“Not only are these attacks pathetic and ridiculous, they are fundamentally undemocratic,” Wittrock said in a Tuesday email, referencing the busing complaint. “What kind of Democrat files a complaint against a fellow Democrat for working to make certain that every person who wants to participate in the endorsement convention has the opportunity to cast a vote?”

A spokesman for the Republican Attorneys General Association released a statement criticizing both Democrats but noted his group “appreciates the head start on Nessel’s opposition research file for the fall.”

Woodhams previously confirmed that Michigan election law requires political candidates to detail their fundraisers but declined to say what action the state could take against a candidate who doesn’t do so.

A campaign could revise its reports to list fundraisers, which Nessel intends to do, but “Bureau of Elections staff would have to review the new filings before deciding whether it considers the reports late or filed on time with amendments,” Woodhams said Monday, noting that late filings could result in fees.

“I can’t give you a blanket answer because each situation is unique,” he said.

Miles did not hold any fundraisers in 2017 after filing paperwork for the race in August, according to his campaign. He promoted a kickoff fundraiser in January 2018 that would need to be disclosed in a future filing.

In the Republican race for attorney general, House Speaker Tom Leonard of DeWitt reported raising more than $65,000 at three fundraisers between October 21 and the end of 2017, including a $32,000 Troy fundraiser hosted by Chemical Finance Corporation Chairman Gary Torgow.

State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, reported raising $3,350 during a November fundraiser at the Karoub and Associates lobbying firm’s “Governors Room” reception space in downtown Lansing.