Shirkey-tied nonprofit gives $550,000 to Unlock Michigan campaign

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A nonprofit organization tied to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey gave $550,000 to the campaign to repeal a Michigan law that allowed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to issue unilateral executive orders to combat COVID-19.

Michigan! My Michigan!, a social welfare organization that formed in August 2018 and doesn't have to disclose its donors, is now the second largest funder of Unlock Michigan, the petition campaign to repeal the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, according to a fundraising report due Monday.

"We were grateful for the support of Michigan, My Michigan, as we were of all our other supporters and donors," said Fred Wszolek, spokesman for Unlock Michigan. "They were one of our larger supporters, but as you know, we received contributions from literally thousands of Michigan citizens who supported our mission to Unlock Michigan."

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake

The direct relationship between Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and Michigan! My Michigan! is unclear because the Republican lawmaker has not specifically addressed it.

However, Shirkey has previously raised money for the nonprofit, according to a fundraising notice posted by the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, and Craig Ryan, Shirkey's former chief of staff, was listed as one of the group's board members in 2019.

Also, when the Michigan Association of Realtors PAC gave $1,000 to Michigan! My Michigan! in 2019, the PAC wrote "Shirkey" on the expenditure. While Michigan! My Michigan! doesn't have to report its contributors, sometimes contributors themselves disclose their donations.

Asked about the nonprofit's giving to Unlock Michigan, Shirkey's spokeswoman Amber McCann directed a reporter to officials involved with Michigan! My Michigan! Those individuals didn't immediately provide a response.

In Michigan, many state officeholders raise money for nonprofit and administrative accounts that fall outside normal campaign fundraising disclosure laws because the groups don't directly spend money to influence elections.

Unlock Michigan says it gathered more than 500,000 petition signatures aiming to repeal the 1945 law that allowed Whitmer, a Democrat, to declare a state of emergency and keep the declaration in place without input from lawmakers.

Unlock Michigan Co-Chairs Garrett Soldano, left, Ron Armstrong and Meshawn Maddock

The campaign submitted its signatures on Oct. 2, the same day the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the law, saying it improperly gave legislative authority to the executive branch.

Supporters of Unlock Michigan still hope to formally repeal the policy in case it is ruled constitutional in the future. If the Secretary of State's Office determines the group collected 340,047 valid signatures, the proposal will go to the GOP-controlled Legislature for final approval. Whitmer would not be able to veto it.

The group's petitions are currently under review, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Monday afternoon.

As of the end of 2020, Unlock Michigan has reported raising $2.8 million. Of that, about $1.8 million has come from Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, a nonprofit organization connected to Michigan Senate Republicans. Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility also doesn't have to disclose its donors.

The liberal group Progress Michigan ripped the contributions from Michigan! My Michigan! to Unlock Michigan on Monday.

"(T)hese reports show just how far Shirkey will go in his efforts to hamstring Gov. Whitmer’s efforts to keep Michiganders safe, all while disingenuously claiming she’s the one who refuses to work together. This is just one more reminder that ‘Shady Shirkey’ cares far more about the interests of corporate donors than the actual human lives at stake right now," said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan

cmauger@detroitnews.com