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Michigan Republicans again are blowing their campaign finance whistle on Democrat Mark Schauer’s gubernatorial campaign.

This time, the state Republican Party is claiming Schauer violated state election law by making illegal candidate-to-candidate expenditures by propping up the unchallenged candidacy of his running mate, Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown.

A complaint filed Aug. 13 with the Bureau of Elections alleges Schauer broke the law by printing thousands of yard signs with Brown’s name on it this summer before she was formally nominated for lieutenant governor at the Democrats’ convention last weekend.

“Until she becomes his nominee, he can’t spend (money) on advocating for her for lieutenant governor of Michigan,” said Eric Doster, attorney for the Michigan Republican Party.

Doster contends Schauer should have split the cost of any campaign literature and T-shirts advocating for Brown’s candidacy prior to the convention with Brown’s campaign committee.

The Republican Party’s last complaint stemmed from Brown’s failure to form a lieutenant governor campaign committee in a timely fashion. She did so after four months on the campaign trail and paid a $300 fine last week after the Bureau of Elections dismissed the complaint.

The Bureau of Elections has asked the Schauer campaign to respond to the GOP’s complaint, spokesman Fred Woodhams said.

Schauer’s campaign argued Wednesday there’s nothing new to gubernatorial candidates teaming up with their hand-picked running mate before a convention.

In 2009, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and then-Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land had dual signs made for Bouchard’s gubernatorial bid — nearly a year before he went on to finish fourth in a five-way Republican primary. Records show Land incurred tens of thousands in printing costs, though.

Last September, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder sent out a fundraising email under a “Snyder Calley for Michigan” logo, though neither Snyder nor Lt. Gov. Brian Calley were officially candidates at the time.

Snyder campaign manager Kyle Robertson said the governor’s re-election has not yet ordered Snyder-Calley signs because it was waiting to get past last Saturday’s convention and avoid “clunky” language saying both campaigns paid for the signs.

Schauer spokeswoman Cathy Bacile Cunningham said Wednesday, “Rick Snyder is getting desperate.”

“There is a long history of governors and candidates for governor of both parties using materials featuring their running mates before they were officially nominated,” Bacile Cunningham said. “No one has ever suggested or complained that those materials are illegal, because they’re not. Republicans might as well file a complaint against Rick Snyder and Mike Bouchard, since both campaigned with a running mate before their nomination was official.”

Whitmer’s next gig

Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer will be the ambassador of a new educational nonprofit called “Right to Health.”

Whitmer will join representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Michigan Thursday for a Capitol press conference to announce the group’s formation and purpose.

Right to Health will focus its educational efforts on accessibility to high-quality health care and the “right of women to make their own private health care decisions,” according to a media advisory.

Whitmer, of East Lansing, is leaving the Legislature at the end of the year because of term limits and is an outspoken advocate of women’s health issues and abortion rights.

She made the term “rape insurance” synonymous with a new law initiated by Right to Life of Michigan that bars basic insurance plans from covering abortions in cases of rape, requiring women to buy additional coverage.

Whitmer will not have an official role in Right to Health, but will serve as the group’s spokesperson or ambassador, said her spokesman, Bob McCann.

Caucus picks Banks

State Rep. Brian Banks, D-Harper Woods, is getting what could be called strange new respect in Lansing.

On Wednesday, the Detroit Caucus announced Banks would become its next chairman, replacing term-limited state Rep. Thomas Stallworth III. Although he still has to get re-elected Nov. 4, Banks is in a heavily Democratic district that seems to ensure he will return to office.

Other choices for the caucus members were returning Reps. Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, Rose Mary Robinson or Harvey Santana. Five other Detroit delegation members will be legislative newcomers.

Banks got the nod despite controversies that include eight felony convictions from 1998 to 2004 for credit card fraud and writing bad checks. Banks also is being sued by a former male legislative staffer for sexual harassment while in office.

“I care deeply about Detroit and its people, and I look forward to representing them in my new capacity next year,” Banks said in a statement. “I look forward to working closely with my fellow Detroit colleagues to ensure that our great city is well represented.”

Justice chimes in

State Supreme Court Justice Brian Zahra voiced support this week for abandoning Michigan’s system of allowing political parties to nominate justices for a seven-member high court that is supposed to be non-partisan.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Zahra weighed in on “the peculiarity of partisan party nominations for the non-partisan position of Justice of the Supreme Court.”

“I agree that this system should be changed because it creates an appearance of partisanship,” said Zahra, who accepted the Michigan Republican Party’s nomination last weekend in Novi. “But for now, this is the system provided under Michigan law.”

Zahra, a former appeals court judge, was first appointed to the Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011 to fill a vacancy left by Maura Corrigan when she became Snyder’s human services director. In 2012, he won a two-year partial term.

This year, Zahra is seeking election to a full eight-year term on the high court. He’s in a five-way race for two seats with fellow GOP nominee and Kent County judge James Robert Redford, Natural Law Party candidate Doug Dern and the Michigan Democratic Party’s two nominees — Farmington Hills attorney Richard Bernstein and Bill Murphy, chief judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Contributors: Chad Livengood and Richard Burr

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