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Runestad questions governor’s 3.5 M gift of excess campaign cash to Democrat party, demands vote to close fundraising loophole

LANSING, Mich.Senate Finance Committee Chair Jim Runestad on Tuesday questioned Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s campaign for funneling $3.5 million in funds it raised above normal contribution limits to the Michigan Democratic Party; the senator also renewed his call for a vote on legislation that would return funds to donors.

“It’s almost as if weren’t for shady ethics, this governor would have no ethics at all,” said Runestad, R-White Lake. “She has continued to raise funds above established contribution limits, citing the threat of imaginary recall efforts that never seem to materialize. This money should be returned to donors.”

The Detroit News reported the governor’s campaign disclosures filed on Monday revealed she raised $2.5 million over the final campaign finance period of 2021, from Oct. 21 through the end of the year.

“I have already introduced legislation to protect against this kind of blatant disregard for campaign finance limits,” Runestad said. “We must bring this bill up immediately to put a stop to the governor’s unorthodox fundraising — and any future candidate who will seek to exploit this campaign finance loophole.”

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.

The governor has pointed to 1983 and 1984 declaratory rulings by former Michigan Secretary of State Richard Austin related to candidates facing recall elections, but 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 this year.

The governor’s recent filing showed she gave $3.5 million to the Michigan Democratic Party and $250,000 was refunded back to attorney Mark Bernstein — one of five donors who gave at least $250,000 individually to her campaign. Individual donors are usually capped at $7,150 for a statewide candidate.

“Soliciting mega-donations to fight against imaginary recalls is misleading to donors and, ultimately, harmful to voters, who should be able to trust that candidates are playing by the same rules and are competing fairly,” Runestad said. “The governor getting away with this kind of laundering scheme is grossly deceitful.”

SB 788 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Elections for consideration.

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