Gov. Whitmer fundraising suit dismissed, but Michigan GOP appealing

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A federal judge dismissed Tuesday the Michigan Republican Party's lawsuit challenging Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's campaign fundraising strategy that allowed her to collect unlimited amounts money from individual donors.

But the Michigan GOP and its chairman, Ron Weiser, filed a notice Wednesday that they will appeal the decision to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The case centers on unsuccessful recall efforts that have been made against Whitmer. While those committees have failed, decisions in the 1980s from then-Michigan Secretary of State Richard Austin, a Democrat, permitted an officeholder facing an active recall to raise unlimited amounts to match the fundraising ability of recall committees.

Whitmer has raised about $4 million from donors who individually gave amounts above the current $7,150 cap. A handful of donors have given at least $250,000 each.

Republicans have claimed the situation is unconstitutional because GOP candidates for governor have to work with the strict donation limits.

In her opinion Tuesday, Judge Janet Neff of Michigan's Western District ruled that the Republican Party's lawsuit over the so-called "recall exception" had failed to allege a "concrete and particularized injury" that would invoke the court's ability to decide the case.

Neff noted the Republicans weren't challenging the restrictions on their fundraising but a separate policy relating to other individuals facing recalls.

The claim that the GOP is at a disadvantage "is predicated entirely on the rights and interests of the yet-to-be named 2022 Republican gubernatorial candidate, a candidate only to be named after the August 2022 primary election," the judge wrote.

"The court finds that the problem with plaintiffs’ alleged injury is less that the future harm is speculative or uncertain and more that the alleged harm is self-inflicted," wrote Neff, a nominee of Republican former President George W. Bush.

Neff, who held a hearing in the case in December, was referring to the fact that Republican donors could have given unlimited amounts to the recall committees.

During the past hearing, the judge suggested the Republicans were feeling "remorse" their party didn't think of the fundraising idea earlier when one of its members held the governor's office.

Current Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office has said the money raised to fight a recall "must be returned or donated if the recall does not become active." The money could go to the Michigan Democratic Party or another political group, but it's unclear what the governor's plans are currently.

The Michigan GOP wanted the court to stop Whitmer's campaign from distributing the excess money while a fight over the strategy's constitutionality played out.