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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration acknowledged Tuesday that normal protocols were bypassed when a no-bid contract for coronavirus contact tracing was awarded by the state to Great Lakes Community Engagement, which is operated by a well-known Democratic consultant Michael Kolehouse -- who has previously written that President Trump should "get Coronavirus ASAP" and that someone should "do the country a favor and cough on that man," Facebook posts reviewed by Fox News show.
The Washington Free Beacon reported earlier Tuesday that Michigan gave a separate contract to track the spread of coronavirus to Every Action VAN, a division of the Democratic data operation NGP VAN. The contract for Great Lakes Community Engagement, which would total $200,000 over eight weeks, was to be executed in coordination with EveryAction, which is tightly linked to NGP VAN's operation. The state abruptly canceled the contract Tuesday.
“Nearly every major Democratic campaign in America is powered by NGP VAN's software, including the Obama campaign’s voter contact, volunteer, fundraising and compliance operations in all 50 states," NGP VAN boasts on its website. The Washington Post has described NGP VAN as "the voter file provider for Democratic campaigns and independent groups up and down ballot."
NGP VAN has previously exposed secretive and proprietary information due to technical glitches, The Washington Post has reported, including when a software patch was improperly applied.
The contracts raised concerns that Whitmer's administration was tying confidential health information to a political data gathering operation and that Whitmer, a rising star floated as a possible vice presidential candidate, had circumvented the state's normal process for awarding key financial resources.
"This is who Gov. Whitmer is giving state contracts to?" asked GOP chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
“I want to know how Gov. Whitmer’s administration decided to hire this company without a competitive bid process, or letting the Legislature — charged with ensuring accountability within state government — know about it,” wrote GOP state Rep. Shane Hernandez in a letter to Whitmer that was first reported by The Detroit News. “I want to know what safeguards the governor has in place to ensure the information gathered during this COVID-19 response doesn’t wind up in the hands of any campaigns."
Whitmer's office told Fox News that neither Kolehouse's operation nor NGP VAN should have gotten the funds, but didn't explain how the purported mistake had occured in the first place.
"This contract should have been approved by the State Emergency Operations Center," a Whitmer spokesperson said by email. "This issue is being corrected, and a different vendor and software platform will be selected by the SEOC. The state is committed to ensuring this important tracing work can begin quickly to help save lives, while also ensuring that public health data is safe and secure."
The governor's office separately told The Washington Post: “The executive office is uncomfortable with this vendor for the same reason others are. The public needs to have confidence that this tracing work is being done by a nonpartisan firm. The state is committed to ensuring this important tracing work can begin quickly to help save lives, while also ensuring that public health data is safe and secure.”
Kolehouse Strategies appears in contact tracing testing materials obtained by Fox News, although the governor's office indicated that the firm hadn't yet begun work.
There was little doubt that Kolehouse and NGP VAN were no strangers to the Whitmer administration before they secured the contracts. Kolehouse also runs Kolehouse Strategies, which openly advocates on behalf of progressive candidates. In other social media posts, including one on April 1, he has praised Whitmer and called Trump a "maniac."
"We stand with that women [sic] and her name is Governor Whitmer!" Kolehouse wrote on March 30.
Kolehouse has since locked down his Facebook account, and he did not respond to Fox News' request for comment.
Contact tracing allows health officials to proactively address the spread of a virus by assessing exposure among individuals, and involves major potential privacy risks. Wes Nakagiri, a local county commissioner, was the first to discover the contract arrangement -- and told the Free Beacon that the Whitmer contract was unprecedented.
"I’ve been involved with grassroots activists for a little over a decade," Nakagiri told the outlet. "I’ve never seen anything like this on the conservative side of the ledger, where you’ve got this entity working with governmental bodies, dumping huge networks of information into one database. They’re asking for contact information, they’re asking for who else lives in the house—it’s troubling that this information is being stored in a Democrat-aligned database."
Whitmer has taken numerous hits on the national stage amid the coronavirus epidemic, even as her profile surges and she is discussed as a possible running mate for Joe Biden.
Two Michigan business owners who filed a lawsuit against Whitmer after she imposed one of the strictest stay-at-home orders in the country told “Fox & Friends Weekend” on Sunday that they weren't alone.
“We are representing thousands of business owners like us in the state of Michigan,” Chris Welton, a co-owner of Welton Lawn Care, said. “It’s our peak season and it’s devastating to the entire industry.”
“We have customers that want us to come. They don’t understand why we can’t,” she continued. “We have lost revenue, employees that are laid off that we’re trying to take care of, unused inventory, customer retention issues, that really is a problem.”
Whitmer was facing at least two federal lawsuits challenging her April 9 executive order to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
In the complaints filed last week, several Michiganders said the governor’s recent tightening of restrictions infringed on their constitutional rights.
Whitmer’s April 9 order prohibited people in her state from visiting family or friends in groups of any size, in public or private. It also placed restrictions on what types of businesses may operate and restricted essential businesses from selling non-essential items. It also banned travel to second homes and vacation properties.
Fox News' Talia Kaplan contributed to this report.