Michigan’s new Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was accused today of giving a “slap on the wrist” to fellow Democrat Gretchen Whitmer after finding the governor had participated in a violation of state campaign finance law during her 2018 campaign.
Benson concluded that the Build a Better Michigan (BBM) PAC’s relationship with the governor while spending $2.7 million on TV ads benefiting Whitmer, was illegal. But the secretary of state settled for a minimal fine of $37,500 and allowed the players involved to admit no guilt.
The Michigan Republican Party, which filed the complaint against Whitmer, reacted with a scathing criticism of Benson, asserting that similar violations have resulted in civil fines that matched the amount of campaign money spent that ran afoul of the law.
“The fine of $37,500 is only 2% of what was spent by Build a Better Michigan in the illegal ads,” said GOP spokesman Tony Zammit.
“… Benson cut … (a) backroom deal which bails out her buddy, Governor Whitmer, to the tune of millions of dollars. This shameful settlement sets a dangerous precedent on how Michigan’s campaigns will be financed in the future.”
At issue is the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, which limits independent PACs to “issue advocacy” advertising that typically urges voters to call a government official – usually an election candidate — and espouse their views on a legislative matter. By law, these ad campaigns cannot coordinate with any candidate to produce advertising content.
But the pro-Whitmer BBM ads referred to “candidate” Gretchen Whitmer and featured the East Lansing Democrat speaking to the camera. Critics say her appearance in the ads marked an obvious violation of the ban on coordination between PACs and candidates.
“Build a Better Michigan’s advertising is part of a long tradition of issue advocacy used for years in Michigan by both parties,” said BBM’s spokesman Mark Fisk, in a response to Bridge Magazine. “While we respectfully disagree with the secretary of state’s determination and settlement, we fully intend to comply with her ruling to put this matter behind us and move forward.”