Gretchen Whitmer Hates 'Out-of-State Interest' Money, Unless It's Spent To Help Her

Gov exploits loophole to raise millions from outside Michigan for non-existent recall election

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer (D.) / Getty Images
August 21, 2021

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer (D.) condemned "out-of-state interests" for "pouring millions of dollars" into her state. That apparently doesn't apply to her own campaign coffers, which prominent national Democrats have flooded with cash thanks to a campaign finance loophole.

Whitmer raised a staggering $8.6 million from Jan. 1 to July 20, a state record for a candidate in a non-election year. Nearly 44 percent of the money came from donors who gave more than Michigan's $7,150 contribution limit, which Whitmer's campaign says is allowed due to the multitude of recall petitions filed against the Democrat. Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker (D.), oil executive Stacy Schusterman, and heiress and Colorado Democracy Alliance cofounder Patricia Stryker, for example, combined to give Whitmer $750,000. None of the three billionaires live in Michigan.

Whitmer's fundraising strategy did not stop the governor from railing against "out-of-state interests" for "pouring millions of dollars into Michigan to try and flip the governorship" in a Sunday campaign email. Whitmer—who has attacked Republicans for increasing campaign contribution limits and "infusing even more money into state politics"—also touted her campaign's "grassroots" status. Michigan Freedom Fund executive director Tori Sachs said Whitmer "lied to the working class" through the fundraising plea.

"Whitmer's 'rules for thee, not for me' playbook is so well known that Michiganders won't be surprised by the governor's dishonesty and hypocrisy," Sachs said.

Whitmer did not return a request for comment.

Whitmer's campaign has defended its decision to solicit unlimited contributions, pointing to a 1983 ruling from former Michigan secretary of state Richard Austin (D.), which established that a Michigan official can accept donations beyond the legal limit if a recall against the official is "actively being sought." But the scheme has still attracted pushback from conservative groups. 

A July complaint from the Michigan Freedom Fund argues Whitmer is not facing an "active" recall, as the most recent petition drive to oust the Democrat approved by the Board of State Canvassers expired in late April. Whitmer received three contributions of $250,000 or more in the ensuing weeks. In addition, three former Michigan governors who faced recall efforts—Republicans Rick Snyder and John Engler and Democrat Jennifer Granholm—did not exploit the situation to accept excess campaign cash.

In addition to Pritzker, Schusterman, and Stryker, Whitmer received a combined $260,000 from Wrigley chewing gum heir Jim Offield, Democratic megadonor Karla Jurvetson, and the governor's father, Richard Whitmer. Had Whitmer refused to accept contributions over $7,150, she would have raised just $5.9 million instead of $8.6 million, according to Michigan Campaign Finance Network executive director Simon Schuster. 

Whitmer has faced dozens of recall campaigns, most of which came in response to the Democrat's far-reaching coronavirus restrictions. None of the efforts, however, have advanced past the petition signature collection phase. Whitmer may need to return the excess contributions "if there's ultimately no recall election," former Michigan Democratic Party chair Mark Brewer told Bridge Michigan

"This is not money that she's going to be able to use next year in the general election," Brewer added.

Whitmer took office in January 2019 after she defeated her GOP opponent, former state attorney general Bill Schuette, by 10 points. She is set to run for reelection in 2022.