Gov. Whitmer collects $550k more in contributions above normal giving limits

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's reelection campaign has amassed a war chest of $12.6 million, including nearly $4 million in contributions above the state's normal giving limits.

On Monday, Michigan candidates had to file new fundraising disclosures, covering the previous three months. The incumbent Democrat's report revealed her campaign has continued a controversial practice of accepting larger than normally allowed donations from individuals.

Since July 20, Whitmer has received $550,000 more over the limits, adding to the $3.4 million she took above the limits earlier in the year.

Whitmer's team has said she can do this because of efforts to recall her and longstanding rulings from the Secretary of State's office that candidates facing active recalls can raise unlimited amounts of money. However, the Michigan Republican Party has challenged the strategy in court, and it's unclear if any of the recalls against the governor are currently active.

"The campaign is grateful for the support of Michiganders in every single county as we work to reelect Gov. Whitmer so that she can continue to fight for Michigan families, small businesses and communities," said Preston Elliott, Whitmer's campaign manager.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the media and others during a press conference in Pontiac, Friday, April 2, 2021.

Whitmer's campaign reported raising $3.1 million in the three-month period ending Wednesday, Oct. 20. She has $12.6 million on hand a year before the 2022 election.

But about 18% of the money came from 40 individuals who gave above the traditional $7,150 limit. They included Timothy Light of Kalamazoo and William Parfet of Hickory Corners, who each gave $50,000 in the last quarter.

The governor's father, Richard Whitmer, contributed $40,000 on Oct. 19, billionaire investor George Soros of New York contributed $25,000 on Sept. 30, and Arn Tellem, vice chairman of the Detroit Pistons, gave $25,000 on Aug. 30.

Gustavo Portela, communications director of Michigan Republican Party, slammed the excess contributions. 

"Our candidates would have raised even more if they were given the opportunity to play by the same corrupt rules as Gretchen Whitmer," Portela said Monday. "We’ll continue to fight for fairness and give our candidates an even playing field."

Whitmer has faced multiple recall efforts — although they have not been serious or gained momentum. Under Secretary of State office decisions from the 1980s, candidates facing recalls have traditionally not been subject to the donor limits in fighting the recalls because those seeking to recall them don't face limits on contributions.

If a recall isn't called, the excess funds "must be returned" or donated to a local charity or party, according to an Oct. 13 court filing this month on behalf of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office.

The governor's fundraising has been in accordance with the law and the recall election period is ongoing, said Maeve Coyle, spokeswoman for Whitmer's campaign.

"The campaign will continue to fight back against the Republican attacks on Gov. Whitmer, including the nearly 30 recall efforts they’ve launched against her," Coyle said.

The Secretary of State's court filing said none of the recall petitions against Whitmer have returned valid signatures within the required 180 days and no new recall petitions had been approved since September 2020.

In the two days after the filing, Whitmer's campaign took $50,000 contributions from Light and Parfet.

Craig leads GOP contenders

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, whom many see as the current front runner for the Republican nomination for govenror, reported raising $1.4 million during the latest fundraising quarter, his first as an official candidate for governor.

Craig formed his committee to run for governor on July 21. In a statement, Craig's campaign labeled the haul a "strong" number "considering the fact he's new to politics and a first-time candidate."

"I'm humbled and honored at the outpouring of support we are seeing from Michiganders across this state," Craig said Monday. "Whitmer and the Democrats will be well financed by the permanent Washington political class and coastal elites, but our message of personal liberty and leading from the front is resonating with Michiganders.

"All the money in the world cannot cover for Whitmer's failed pandemic response, poor leadership and hypocrisy."

Craig's top donors included two former Michigan governors, John Engler and Rick Snyder. Each gave $7,150. David Fischer, CEO of Suburban Collection; Cynthia Pasky, CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions; and Ron Boji, president of the Boji Group, also backed the former chief's campaign.

As of Monday, 11 Republicans, including Craig, had formed committees to run for governor since the last election.

Chiropractor and activist Garrett Soldano of Mattawan reported raising $1.1 million since launching his campaign in April. Over the last three months, he raised $495,979. He reported about 10,032 individual contributors during the quarter and having $473,615 available at the end of it.

"We are seeing a groundswell of Michiganders who are sick and tired of Gretchen Whitmer’s failed leadership, who want their freedoms back, their elections secure, and their kids back in school without endless mandates," Soldano said. "Establishment politicians won't get the job done — our grassroots movement will."

'Building the infrastructure'

Conservative commentator Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores reported raising $215,115 since July 20 in her bid for the GOP nomination. She's brought in $347,651 since the beginning of her campaign.

Dixon's top donors included Lauren Rakolta, president and CEO of DFM Solutions, who gave $7,150. Dixon's campaign also noted that a newly formed super political action committee (super PAC) supporting her bid for governor received $200,000 from Kim Van Kampen, owner of Hampton Green Farm.

Super PACs can receive unlimited amounts but are supposed to operate independently of candidates' campaigns.

"As we crisscross the state, we are met with tremendous enthusiasm for a campaign built on solid policy proposals, not empty rhetoric," Dixon said. "We are building the infrastructure necessary to win the primary and defeat Gretchen Whitmer. I am thrilled with the progress we have made since the summer."

Pastor Ralph Rebandt of Oakland Hills Community Church in Farmington Hills reported raising the most over the last three months: $47,586. He had $6,945 available as of Wednesday.

Right-wing activist Ryan Kelley reported raising $45,125 during the quarter, and Michael Brown, a Michigan State Police commander, reported raising $14,448.

Metro Detroit businessman Kevin Rinke, who is also eyeing a run for governor, reported raising no money in the last quarter. Rinke has said he will give his own campaign $10 million if he launches his campaign.

The Republican primary election for governor is still nine months away. The general election is a year away.