Watchdog Group Files IRS Complaint Over Whitmer's Private Flight

Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D.) / Getty Images
May 19, 2021

A conservative watchdog group on Wednesday filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service over a nonprofit-sponsored private flight Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer (D.) took to Florida.

Michigan Rising Action alleges Whitmer improperly benefited from nonprofit funds that were used to pay for a private charter flight she took to Florida to visit her father on March 12. Michigan Transition 2019, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that paid for the flight, was founded in 2018 to pay for Whitmer's inauguration expenses.

Whitmer did not initially acknowledge taking the trip, and for weeks refused to disclose how the flight was paid for, until her administration released a memo last week revealing Michigan Transition 2019's funding of the trip. The purpose of the trip was to visit her chronically ill father and assist him with "household duties like cooking and cleaning," according to the statement. Whitmer's office said she contributed $855 of her personal funds toward the $27,521 cost of the flight to pay for her seat.

Whitmer's chief of staff JoAnne Huls defended the administration's lack of transparency in the memo, saying the governor's office does not "generally comment on the governor's personal schedule" because of "extraordinary and ongoing threats to the life and safety of the governor and her family."

Michigan Rising Action executive director Eric Ventimiglia said the cost of the flight borne by the nonprofit represented an improper personal benefit to Whitmer. According to IRS code, a 501(c)(4) organization "must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare" and "may not inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual." Ventimiglia called on the IRS to conduct an investigation into the matter.

"From her blatant hypocrisy to the litany of ethical and legal violations, Governor Whitmer has spent the last two months misleading the people of Michigan about her trip to Florida," Ventimiglia said. "It's time for her to be held accountable."

Michigan Rising Action also criticized Whitmer for comments she made in April expressing concern over Michigan residents traveling to Florida.

"This is the time of the year that snowbirds come home from Florida, where people are going on spring break, and all of these things can contribute to spread," Whitmer said during an appearance on Meet the Press. "That's why we're imploring people to take this seriously, mask up, get tested."