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When Michigan Became COVID Hotspot, Whitmer Fled for Hollywood Fundraisers

Whitmer's Golden State getaway included stay at ritzy Beverly Hilton hotel

Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D.) / Getty Images
• February 3, 2022 2:50 pm

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As Michigan emerged as the epicenter of COVID cases in the United States last year, Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer left the state for big-money fundraisers in California and enjoyed a stay at the ritzy Beverly Hilton hotel.

COVID-19 ravaged Michigan in mid-November—at the time, the state led the nation in new virus cases, saw its hospitalizations nearly reach a pandemic high, and faced a shortage of rapid tests. But as Michigan struggled to deal with the surge, Whitmer was thousands of miles away in California, where she raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from a string of private fundraisers in Los Angeles and San Francisco, campaign finance disclosures show.

On Nov. 16, for example, Whitmer raised more than $78,000 at a private Los Angeles fundraiser with Hollywood soap opera producer Colleen Bell. One day later, she raked in a combined $88,650 from private events in Los Angeles and San Francisco as ambulance companies in Michigan experienced severe labor shortages that led to delayed response times. And on Nov. 18—the same day Whitmer's campaign spent nearly $600 at the Beverly Hilton—the Democrat raised another $56,600 from two Silicon Valley fundraisers. In total, Whitmer's campaign amassed more than $220,000 over the three days.

Whitmer's decision to hobnob in the Golden State as the virus surged in Michigan could further ongoing frustrations with the governor's pandemic response. National Democrats and liberal media outlets lauded Whitmer for her stringent virus rules early on in the pandemic, but the Democrat went on to face significant backlash as critics derided her orders as draconian and ineffective. Whitmer's approval rating has dipped since the November surge, which saw Michigan account for 10 percent of the nation's new cases, even though it only holds 3 percent of the U.S. population.

"The more reports come out, the more we uncover about Gretchen Whitmer's priorities, which are not to keep Michiganders safe, but rather to ascend the political ladder," Michigan Republican Party spokesman Gustavo Portela told the Washington Free Beacon. "Whitmer was missing in action during the most critical days of the state's pandemic response. It's clear she can't be trusted to lead the state or keep people safe from this deadly virus."

Whitmer did not return a request for comment.

Thanks in part to her California fundraisers, Whitmer raised nearly $14.3 million in 2021 for her reelection bid. Much of that money, however, came from donors who gave more than Michigan's $7,150 contribution limit. Whitmer used a campaign finance loophole to accept those excess donations. After Michigan's secretary of state determined the governor would not be allowed to keep the funds, Whitmer funneled $3.5 million to the Michigan Democratic Party.

Whitmer was not the only Democrat to enjoy a lavish stay at the Beverly Hilton in November. Minnesota Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar spent more than $5,000 in campaign cash at the posh hotel late last year for her own Beverly Hills fundraiser, which was hosted by Hollywood celebrities John Legend and Chrissy Teigen.