Whitmer blows past campaign finance limits thanks to legal loophole

Democratic governor of Michigan's fundraising haul fueled by jumbo donations over normal limit

The push by some Republicans in Michigan to recall Gov. Gretchen Whitmer may be backfiring – and helping to fuel fundraising by the first-term Democrat who is running for reelection next year.

Whitmer’s reelection campaign announced on Monday that the governor hauled in an eyepopping $8.6 million in fundraising from Jan. 1 through July 20, breaking a record for a Michigan gubernatorial incumbent or candidate in an off-election year.

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A good chunk of the governor’s change came from some top-dollar donors who were able to give more than the normal legal limit, due to a caveat.

Michigan law dictates that the maximum amount an individual donor can contribute to a gubernatorial campaign committee is $7,150. But Whitmer’s been able to circumvent the legal limits due to a 1984 state ruling that says contribution limits didn’t apply to governors – such as Whitmer – who are defending themselves against recall efforts.

FILE - In this July 12, 2021, file photo Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a vaccine mobilization event in Detroit. Gov. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

FILE - In this July 12, 2021, file photo Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a vaccine mobilization event in Detroit. Gov. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Whitmer’s campaign noted that nearly 30 recall petitions have been filed against the governor, mostly by those on the right who were furious over the restrictions she implemented last year amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Fewer than 1% of Whitmer’s contributions this year were above the normal limit of $7,150, according to an analysis by Michigan Campaign Finance Network Executive Director Simon Schuster. But Schuster told MLive.com that the donations from contributors giving over the normal limit – thanks to the recall carveout – accounted for nearly 44% of her 2021 fundraising haul. According to his preliminary calculations, Whitmer would have raised $5.9 million instead of $8.6 million if contributions were capped at $7,150.

Some GOP strategists in Michigan are calling on recall activists to power down.

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Among them is Fred Wszolek, a veteran Republican consultant who’s currently advising the 2022 campaign of Tudor Dixon, one of the leading Republicans challenging the governor.

"Every grassroots conservative in MI should turn up the heat on the various Recall Whitmer activists to pack it in now," Wszolek urged on Twitter this week. "They're not going to succeed, and they're strengthening her by the day. They knew this could happen. It is. Enough."

Michigan isn’t the only state with a fundraising carveout for governors facing recall petitions.

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Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California – who’s facing a September recall election in the Golden State – has used loopholes in his state’s laws to bring in millions in fundraising for big bucks donors as he fights to keep his job.