Lansing – The Michigan Republican Party agreed to pay $ 200,000 to resolve a campaign finance complaint that claimed President Ron Weiser used party funds to lure a secretary of state candidate out of a race in 2018 .
The allegations came to light in February when then-President Laura Cox publicly accused Weiser of orchestrating a “secret deal” with Stan Grot of Macomb County to get Grot out of the nomination contest. of the party to the post of secretary of state. The deal involved $ 200,000 in payments from the party’s undisclosed administrative account to Grot, said Cox, who lost to Weiser in his run for re-election days after making claims against him.
Weiser, a businessman, GOP donor and University of Michigan regent, has denied any wrongdoing, calling Cox’s claims “baseless.” However, the former president sent a letter to the Michigan Bureau of Elections on behalf of the state party, declaring herself a “possible campaign finance violation” before stepping down from her post, sparking an investigation by the office of the election. Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
The investigation officially ended this week with the conciliation agreement, under which the secretary of state’s office is barred from further action regarding the case, but the party must pay $ 200,000. Weiser said he would personally contribute $ 200,000 to the party.
According to the agreement released Friday, the secretary of state’s office found “there may be reason to believe” that the $ 200,000 in payments to Grot violated campaign finance law because they were supposed to influence the race for Secretary of State. The law would require public disclosure of expenses directly to benefit the candidate’s campaign.
“The Election Office determined that there was reason to believe that the Michigan Republican Party had violated the campaign finance law and sought a conciliation agreement as required by law,” Tracy said. Wimmer, spokesperson for Benson. âIn conciliation agreements, it is common for the subject of the investigation to claim that there was no fault.
“In this case, the Republican Party agreed to pay a fine equal to the amount of money involved in the violation to resolve the complaint.”
At 4 p.m. Friday, before the weekend of July 4, the Michigan Republican Party released a statement from Weiser, first acknowledging that the deal had been made with Benson’s office to resolve the issue. Weiser argued the party would have won in court if they had pursued the case. Republicans had argued that the payments were not intended to influence the race of the Secretary of State and did not have to be disclosed.
âIn the end, the litigation costs for the party would have amounted to more than the payment demanded by the secretary of state,â Weiser said. “Therefore, I have decided to personally pay the conciliation amount to the party to close this unfortunate chapter and continue to focus on where it belongs – the 2022 elections.”
The president said he was “happy to end the sad and reckless actions of Laura Cox which needlessly pushed the Michigan Republican Party into a politicized inquiry designed to hurt Republicans in 2022 and thwart electoral reform efforts.”
He added: “The Secretary of State requested a disproportionate conciliation payment given the baseless accusations and the lack of quality for such an investigation. Compared to payments for much more egregious charges, Gretchen Whitmer paid a fine. much weaker. do for each other. “
Weiser was apparently referring to a 2019 deal between Benson’s office and a group that ran advertisements to benefit Whitmer in his gubernatorial campaign.
Build a Better Michigan spent over $ 2.4 million running pro-Whitmer TV commercials which he described as a form of “advocacy,” meaning they weren’t meant to support a candidate. and therefore do not fall under campaign finance regulations. But some of the ads violated the law by identifying Whitmer as a “candidate for governor,” Benson determined.
Build a Better Michigan paid a settlement of $ 37,500, but many Republicans felt the penalty should have been more severe.
Ahead of the party convention on August 25, 2018, Grot, a longtime activist from Shelby Township, abruptly withdrew from the Secretary of State race on August 17, 2018. Grot cited “family obligations, timing and the global political atmosphere â. as influencing his decision. He was competing for the GOP nomination with Grosse Pointe Farms businesswoman Mary Treder Lang, who ended up being the only Republican candidate for governor, attorney general or secretary of state.
Cox said that after Grot’s withdrawal, he was paid $ 200,000 between August 20, 2018 and February 12, 2019, into the party’s administrative account, a fund that can receive money from businesses and don’t does not have to publicly disclose its contributions or expenses. .
Among the $ 200,000 paid to Grot, there were six payments of $ 10,000 and one payment of $ 140,000 that was made two weeks before Cox became president in February 2019, according to her letter to activists. Weiser did not seek re-election as president in 2019.
“The $ 140,000 was so large that the party’s chief financial officer had to borrow from the party’s line of credit,” Cox wrote in a February letter.
Some Republican officials who served under Weiser have denied that anything inappropriate happened. Grot had been asked to help recruit delegates, organize events and help with legislative races in Macomb County, said Colleen Pero, who was the party’s chief of staff.
According to documents released as part of the Secretary of State’s investigation, Grot and Weiser signed an agreement on July 3, 2018, in which Grot agreed to provide services to the party, including hosting events and delivering speeches. speech, in exchange for $ 230,000. The arrangement was conditional on Grot’s withdrawal from the Secretary of State race no later than August 17, 2018.
“I will not be supporting the Michigan Secretary of State’s candidacy until the state convention of August 25, 2018, or when there is only one candidate for this position. However, once the candidate is known, I fully support this person. “read the agreement between Grot and Weiser.
In a letter to Michigan GOP attorney Charles Spies, Melissa Malerman, an official with the Michigan Bureau of Elections, said the deal meant Grot’s expenses should have been disclosed.
The payments would not have happened if Grot had continued to run for secretary of state, she noted. To determine a potential resolution, Malerman asked the Michigan Republican Party to release donor information to its secret administrative account. In Michigan, companies are prohibited from giving corporate funds to applicants.
But Spies disagreed with legal theory.
“With all due respect, the secretary’s theory that a $ 200,000 contract with an individual somehow serves to argue against that same individual’s campaign is absurd,” wrote Spies.
Without a court order, the party would not disclose donor information on its administrative account, Spies wrote to the Elections Office on May 17.