Michigan Attorney General Nessel's office 'reviewing' 2018 Weiser deal

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News
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Lansing — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office says it's reviewing state GOP Chairman Ron Weiser's use of party funds in a 2018 deal that required a secretary of state candidate to abruptly end his campaign.

On Friday, the Michigan Republican Party revealed that it had agreed to pay a $200,000 penalty to resolve a campaign finance complaint focused on the situation through an arrangement with Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office.

The question now turns to whether Nessel's office would attempt to pursue its own investigation into elements of the incident that fall outside of campaign finance policy. Such a probe could feature the Democratic attorney general examining the actions of Weiser, a wealthy businessman, University of Michigan regent and chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.

Ron Weiser

"We are currently reviewing the matter and have no details to provide at this time," said Lynsey Mukomel, Nessel's press secretary.

According to documents released Friday, the Bureau of Elections, which falls under Benson's leadership, found "there may be reason to believe" the $200,000 in payments to former secretary of state candidate Stan Grot violated campaign finance law. But the conciliation agreement between the party and elections bureau barred Benson's office from further action on the matter.

"This matter is closed," said Jason Cabel Roe, executive director of the Michigan Republican Party, when asked Thursday about Nessel's review.

The payments came to light in February when then-Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox publicly accused Weiser of orchestrating a "secret deal" with Grot, the Shelby Township clerk, to get him to drop out of the party's nomination race for secretary of state so a different GOP candidate could win.

Weiser and Grot have both denied wrongdoing.

Weiser said he would have won if the campaign finance complaint, launched by Cox, went to court. He signed off on the $200,000 conciliation agreement because "the litigation costs to the party would’ve amounted to more than the payment demanded by the secretary of state," he said.

"Therefore, I decided to personally contribute the conciliation amount to the party to close this unfortunate chapter and continue our focus where it needs to be — the 2022 election," the chairman said Friday.

According documents released by the Michigan Bureau of Elections, Grot and Weiser reached a deal on July 3, 2018, in which Grot agreed to provide services to the party, including organizing events and giving speeches, in exchange for $230,000. The arrangement was contingent upon Grot withdrawing from the secretary of state race no later than Aug. 17, 2018.

"I will not endorse in the Michigan secretary of state race until after the August 25, 2018, state convention or such time as there is only one candidate for this position. However, once the nominee is known, I fully endorse that person," read the agreement between Grot and Weiser.

Ahead of the party's convention, Grot, a longtime party activist and clerk from Shelby Township, withdrew from the secretary of state race on Aug. 17, 2018. Grot cited “family obligations, timing and the overall political atmosphere” as influencing his decision.

He had been competing for the GOP nomination with Grosse Pointe Farms businesswoman Mary Treder Lang. Multiple Republicans have said Treder Lang was the preferred candidate by some party leaders because she would be the lone female nominee for the three top-of-the-ticket positions. The GOP nominated Schuette for governor and then-House Speaker Tom Leonard for attorney general.

On Thursday, Mark Brewer, an attorney and former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said he believes an investigation into the payments to Grot should take place. Michigan election law limits the exchange of things of value for votes at political conventions. However, it's unclear whether those prohibitions apply specifically to Weiser's situation.

One portion of the law says a member of a convention "shall not solicit a candidate for nomination before the convention for money, reward, position, place, preferment or other valuable consideration in return for support by the delegate or member in the convention."

A violation would bring a misdemeanor penalty.

But Bob LaBrant, who was the longtime legal counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said the claims surrounding campaign finance violations were more of a "slam dunk." The conciliation agreement likely bars Nessel from pursuing them, LaBrant said.

"It’s ‘go and sin no more, my son,’” LaBrant said of how conciliation agreements work under campaign finance law.

"He’s lucky she didn’t just refer him over to the attorney general,” LaBrant said, referring to Weiser and Benson.

Weiser gained national attention in March when he labeled Nessel, Benson and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, three Democrats, the "three witches" during a GOP event. 

In June, Nessel called on the University of Michigan Board of Regents to cooperate with her in an investigation of serial abuser Dr. Robert Anderson.

"The regents at the University of Michigan have my number, except for Ron Weiser," Nessel said. "I won't give him my number." 

Weiser came forward in March 2020 as one of hundreds who said they were molested by Anderson.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.

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