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Weiser payment probe continues despite Michigan GOP bid to stop it

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — An investigation into $200,000 paid by the Michigan Republican Party to a former secretary of state candidate continues this week despite an attempt by the GOP to halt it.

On Thursday, Laura Cox, the former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, claimed that Ron Weiser, the previous and new chairman, orchestrated a "secret deal" with Stan Grot to get Grot to drop out of the party's 2018 nomination race for secretary of state. The deal involved $200,000 in payments from the party's undisclosed administrative account to Grot, Cox said.

Ron Weiser and Laura Cox

Weiser, who defeated Cox in a convention race for a two-year term as chair on Saturday, called his opponent's claims "baseless." But Cox sent a letter to the Michigan Bureau of Elections on behalf of the state party, self-reporting a "possible campaign finance violation." The bureau falls under the authority of Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

That letter spurred an investigation, like similar complaints would.

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With Weiser as the new chairman after the convention, the Michigan Republican Party attempted Tuesday to withdraw Cox's complaint.

"Her baseless allegations and attempts to destroy the Michigan Republican Party by working with the Democrat Secretary of State is incredibly disappointing," the party said in a statement.

However, Benson spokesman Jake Rollow said the state's investigation would continue.

"The Bureau of Elections has already received a written notification of a possible violation of campaign finance law and is seeking additional information to determine whether a violation occurred," Rollow added.

For subscribers:Why Michigan GOP's new leader Ron Weiser is walking 'a really tight rope'

He has previously said that following the conclusion of the bureau’s enforcement process, depending on the finding, the bureau might refer the matter to Attorney General Dana Nessel's office. Nessel, Michigan's top law enforcement official, is also a Democrat.

The type of administrative account that paid Grot is allowed to be secret and accept corporate money under state law because it is legally not supposed to directly engage in campaigning for candidates.

The payments could represent "potentially serious violations of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act" if it's determined that undisclosed corporate funds were used to influence a state race, Cox wrote in her letter to Republicans last week.

Colleen Pero, Weiser's former chief of staff, has denied that something improper happened with the payments to Grot. Grot of Shelby Township had been tapped to help with delegate recruitment, organize events and assist with legislative races in Macomb County, Pero told attorneys who created a report for Cox.

cmauger@detroitnews.com