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Runestad bill to close fundraising loophole exploited by governor moves out of Senate

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Senate on Tuesday passed Sen. Jim Runestad’s legislation to fix a campaign finance loophole taken advantage of by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to fundraise beyond set contribution limits.

“Voters deserve candidates who compete fairly and ethically,” said Runestad, R-White Lake. “Soliciting mega-donations to fight against imaginary recalls is misleading to donors and, ultimately, harmful to voters and a fair election process. The governor’s excess funds should have been returned to donors instead of funneled to her party.”

Senate Bill 788 would require an officeholder, who is the subject of an approved recall petition, to place money raised for a recall election into a separate specified account and return unspent funds to donors.

Campaign finance reports filed during 2021 showed that the governor stockpiled millions from jumbo-sized contributions — including some in the six-figure range — above the $7,150 individual limit currently set for gubernatorial campaigns.

While the governor pointed to 1983 and 1984 rulings by former Michigan Secretary of State Richard Austin related to candidates facing recall elections to justify her actions, current Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in October that Whitmer would have to return or donate millions of dollars in campaign contributions at the end of the year.

The Detroit News reported in January that the governor’s fourth-quarter report showed she sent $3.5 million to the Michigan Democratic Party and refunded $250,000 to only one of five donors who gave at least that much individually to her campaign.

“The Legislature must put a stop to this fraudulent fundraising utilized by our governor — and for any future candidate who would seek to exploit this campaign finance loophole,” Runestad said.

SB 788 now moves to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

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