Judge tosses GOP challenge to exception for recall donations
LANSING (AP) — A federal judge dismissed Republicans’ lawsuit challenging the ability of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reelection campaign to collect excess donations under an exception for recall attempts, saying they lack the standing to sue.
District Judge Janet Neff in Grand Rapids ruled Tuesday that state GOP chairman Ron Weiser and the party failed to show they had suffered a “concrete and particularized injury.” She also said they could have given unlimited amounts to recall committees opposing the Democratic governor but did not.
Republicans said they would appeal.
At issue is roughly $4 million in contributions to Whitmer that exceeded the $7,150 per-person limit. A 1983 interpretive statement and a 1984 declaratory ruling from the secretary of state at the time allow such donations when a state officeholder is facing a potential recall.
The lawsuit, which was filed in September, challenged the constitutionality of the recall rule and alleged that it gives Whitmer a competitive advantage.
Since then, the state elections bureau has dismissed a separate campaign finance complaint brought by a conservative group. But it has reiterated that Whitmer’s campaign must “disgorge” recall-designated contributions since no recall election was held after activists’ longshot efforts in 2020 and 2021 fell far short of the necessary voter signatures.
The funds that were not spent on litigation or other recall-defense activities can be given to political parties or charities.
Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s department said the recall doctrine creates the potential for future abuse by allowing excess donations to be used for what would otherwise amount to campaign advertising. It said that although the record does not show that Whitmer’s committee did that, a future committee could.
The department said it would welcome the opportunity to consider the issue further if someone were to ask for a declaratory ruling, but that it could not overturn past precedents while addressing the complaint filed by the Michigan Freedom Fund.