John James campaign says it's achieved promise, giving $2.3M to charity

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

John James, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate who pledged to give 5% of the campaign money he raised to charity, has now achieved the vow, his campaign says.

While the accomplishment comes eight months after Election Day and the Farmington Hills businessman who lost to U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, faced criticism for the delay, the level of charitable giving is a substantial and unusual act for a political campaign.

John James addresses the crowd before President Donald Trumps speaks during his Make America Great Again Victory Rally at AV Flight at the Capital Region International Airport in Lansing, MI, Tuesday, October 27, 2020.

The James fundraising committee reported about $46.12 million in total contributions for the 2020 election — not including money that had been refunded to donors. The committee has given more than $2.36 million of the money to charity — $1.76 million in reported donations through the end of June and $600,000 in yet-to-be-reported donations in July — about 5.1% of the total raised.

"Jesus teaches that 'whatever we do unto the least of these, our brothers, we do unto him' and that we should 'let our light shine so that others will see our good works and glorify God,'" the Republican former candidate said in a statement. "With the generous support of our grassroots army, we were able to do both.

"At a time when so many people are hurting, I am honored that the Lord used me to be a blessing to others. Praise God!"

As of March 31, nearly five months after the election, the campaign disclosed about $1.36 million in spending it described as "charitable," about 2.9% of its fundraising amount, leaving about $1 million in donations still to be made, according to a Detroit News analysis in May.

On Thursday, the James campaign reported another $402,050 in giving to charities, according to his latest disclosure to the Federal Election Commission, covering April, May and June. The campaign said it made another $600,000 in donations over the first weeks of July, which will show up on a report in October.

During the 2020 race, James repeatedly touted his "Nickel Promise." In one of his ads that focused on the program, James said his campaign would contribute "5%, or just a nickel, for every dollar we raise to improving the lives of Michiganders."

"When I decided to run, I made the commitment I wasn’t going to wait until I got elected to help Michiganders," James tweeted on May 20, 2020. "That's what the Nickel Promise is all about. Five cents for every dollar you give goes to serving our neighbors. Let's do some good together."

On Friday, Rodericka Applewhaite, spokeswoman for the Michigan Democratic Party, said James now "wants a pat on the back for finally following through on a self-imposed pledge well over a year after initially making it, and months after being exposed for failing to fulfill it in a timely manner."

"And here I thought Republicans were against participation trophies," she said. "It won’t be lost on Michiganders that John James is attempting to clean up the horrible optics of denying funds to charities days before the gubernatorial primary gets even more crowded."

In May, seven months after Election Day as his campaign remained under the 5% threshold, James said he was still working to achieve the promise.

"We do have a gap to fill," James said. "But quite frankly, the environment is dynamic, and the need will always be there."

In July, the James campaign says it gave $100,000 to No One Left Behind, a charity that helps interpreters who worked with the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, $250,000 to Novi-based Brightmoor Christian Church and $250,000 to Black Family Development, a Detroit nonprofit family counseling agency.

The campaign gave $40,000 to 10 different charities in June, according to its latest disclosure: Detroit Cristo Rey High School, the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, Be Instrumental, the Detroit Dog Rescue, the Friendship Circle, Midnight Mission, San Juan Diego Academy, Grace Centers of Hope, Potter's House and the United Way Livingston County.

James lost to Peters by less than 2 percentage points last year. Some Michigan Republicans are hoping James challenges Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, or runs for a U.S. House seat in 2022.

His race against Peters last year attracted about $206 million in campaign donations and spending, including an outpouring of money from groups that worked outside of the two candidates' campaigns, according to tracking by the nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network. The nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics ranked the race the eighth most expensive U.S. Senate contest in the nation for the election cycle.