With recent polls showing Gretchen Whitmer trailing in the Michigan Democrat gubernatorial primary, her allies are now facing questions over whether their television ads are in violation of state campaign finance laws.
A new complaint against “Build a Better Michigan,” a group running $1.8 million in ads for Whitmer, alleges their commercials constitute express advocacy by identifying her as a “candidate for governor” and outlining her major campaign themes. A non-partisan watchdog asserts that the complaint “may have merit” in claiming that Whitmer’s allies are attempting to avoid Michigan reporting requirements for ads that do not advocate directly for or against a certain candidate.
As Whitmer struggles to keep up with her primary rival Shri Thanedar, who has spent millions in ads for months while Whitmer has failed to connect with voters, these new questions surrounding her allies’ ads will only further complicate her already difficult path to winning her party’s nomination.
The Detroit News reports:
“The Michigan Republican Party on Wednesday asked election officials to investigate whether a group running $1.8 million in television ads that feature Democrat Gretchen Whitmer violated state campaign finance laws.
Build a Better Michigan President Mark Burton called the complaint a ‘frivolous’ political attack. But the GOP argument that the ad breaks the law by identifying Whitmer as a candidate for governor may have merit, according to one non-partisan watchdog.
Michigan law, as reinforced by the Republican-led Legislature in 2013, allows groups to avoid state reporting requirements for ads that do not directly advocate for or against the election of a candidate.
The commercials from Build a Better Michigan, a political organization founded by Whitmer allies separate from her campaign, feature the East Lansing Democrat but do not directly tell viewers to vote for her.
Michigan Republican Party Chief of Staff Colleen Pero alleges the ads constitute express advocacy for Whitmer’s election because they identify her as a “candidate for governor” and outline her major campaign themes.
Build a Better Michigan is expected to disclose donors and spending to the federal government in coming weeks. But the group should already have reported independent spending to the state and violated the law by not doing so, according to the GOP complaint filed with the Bureau of Elections.
The complaint ‘potentially could be legitimate’ said Craig Mauger of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, whose group tracks unreported issue ad spending.
‘If you’re running a 30-second ad that is so positive about a candidate and says all these great things, and then you mention this person is a candidate for office, I think anyone watching would think that the message of the ads is to vote for that person for that office,’ Mauger said…
The Whitmer campaign declined comment on the ads or the GOP complaint.”