Pensler facing FEC complaint as Senate primary heats up

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A U.S. Senate hopeful is facing a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission that alleges he used a non-federal committee or funds to circulate and submit petitions for his federal campaign in violation of the law.

The complaint was filed after 47 sheets of nominating petitions for Republican senatorial candidate Sandy Pensler of Grosse Pointe were inadvertently turned in last week by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley when Calley filed his petitions to run for governor of Michigan.

The Calley campaign said it was a mistake made by a circulator who had collected signatures for more than one candidate, including a liberal Democrat.

But Matthew Frendewey, a former communications director for the Michigan Republican Party, says it indicates “illegal coordination” by Pensler’s campaign in violation of federal campaign finance law. That’s because Calley’s committee would have used his state campaign funds to pay for the signature gathering, Frendewey said.

Under the law, federal candidates may not receive or spend non-federal funds in connection with their election campaigns that would not be subject to federal reporting requirements or contribution limits.

“I recognized there was a serious issue by a federal campaign using or benefiting from a state campaign, so I filed this FEC complaint in my personal capacity,” said Frendewey, who lives in Commerce Township.

He is asking the FEC to open an investigation.

“The assertions are ridiculous, frivolous and a desperate attempt by the John James campaign to revive a failing campaign,” Pensler spokesman Tom Shields said, referring to Pensler’s GOP primary opponent.

John Yob, a consultant for Pensler, said it is “perfectly legal and normal” for contractors in the field to circulate petitions for both state and federal campaigns at the same time.

A GOP strategist, Yob works with both Calley and Pensler, whose campaigns both paid a Yob-related firm, 190 Personnel in Grand Rapids, for signature gathering and related services, according to FEC reports.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for John James supporters to try and attack Sandy Pensler and Brian Calley for something that they themselves do,” Yob said.

Frendewey said he has not done any consulting for the James campaign or for James consultant Stu Sandler in relation to James’ campaign.

Frendewey does consult for the National Security and Opportunity Fund, a 501(c)4 “social welfare” organization that advocates for a U.S. Senate candidate in Michigan with military and business experience. James is an Iraq veteran and businessman.

Sandler was previously associated with the National Security and Opportunity Fund but left the group at the beginning of the year, he said.

“I did not know about the complaint until I read it online,” Sandler said.