As we noted in previous posts, more than 60% of El-Sayed’s donations were from out of state. Much of it apparently illegally so.
Lansing — Campaign finance anomalies, accusations and oversights are rocking Michigan’s Democratic gubernatorial primary in the run-up to Tuesday’s primary.
Ann Arbor businessman Shri Thanedar has delayed disclosing $6 million in spending, former Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer is benefiting from $550,000 in untraceable advertising money and former Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed this week received a questionable $61,200 contribution from a political action committee.
The campaign finance developments arose as the three candidate compete to see who will face off in November against the winner of the Republican primary, where four hopefuls, including Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, are battling.
Candidate fundraising and outside group spending through July 22 had already put the gubernatorial race on pace to possibly be the most expensive in Michigan’s history.
Craig Mauger, a watchdog with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, has noted that spending could break the record $79 million in 2006’s campaign.
The increasingly combative Democratic primary was punctuated Thursday by El-Sayed’s explosive tweet alleging “money laundering” by Whitmer, which he quickly back tracked by noting she’d done nothing illegal.
El-Sayed battled accusations of hypocrisy Friday morning when The Detroit News first highlighted new state reports showing he appeared to benefit from a contribution shift the Whitmer campaign alleged could be illegal instead.
Four separate donors who had already given El-Sayed’s campaign $6,800 contributions, the maximum allowed by law, this week gave a combined $80,000 to a PAC run by state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn.
The next day Hammoud for Michigan gave a large contribution to El-Sayed’s campaign, which reported receiving a cumulative total of $61,200 from the PAC. The PAC had $34,476 in cash reserves prior to the recent contributions.
Mauger said donors routinely bypass the state’s individual contribution limits by giving to outside groups that continue to support their chosen candidate.
PACs can give up to $68,000 to campaigns, 10 times the legal amount of an individual.
“It’s not exactly rare, but it shows the many ways you could get around contribution limits if you wanted to continue supporting a candidate after you’ve already given them the max,” Mauger said.
Proving a campaign finance violation in such cases is difficult, he added, because state law requires a complainant to show the contributor and PAC had an agreement or arrangement the money would be transferred to a campaign.
PAC donations stir fury
A late contribution report filed by Hammoud’s PAC on Tuesday showed donations of $50,000 from Ashwin Vasan of New York and $10,000 each from Aisha Jukaku of New York, Hasan Rizvi of California and Western Michigan University physician Wael Hakmeh. All had previously given maximum contributions to El-Sayed, and Jukaku appears to be his sister-in-law.
“One day after falsely accusing Gretchen Whitmer of money laundering, it now appears that Abdul El-Sayed is running a potentially illegal donor funneling scheme,” Whitmer Press Secretary Nicole Simmons said in a statement. “While Gretchen has kept her campaign positive, Abdul has stooped to the level of Donald Trump by peddling conspiracy theories and making defamatory attacks on Twitter.”
Or as one of El-Sayed’s Democratic opponents – also accused of financial improprieties – wrote: Abdul El-Sayed Using Illegal Donor Funneling Scheme to Raise $61,000 in Shady Out-of-State Money
On July 31, 2018, Hammoud for Michigan, a PAC affiliated with Michigan House Representative Abdullah Hammoud, received the following contributions from out-of-state donors who had already contributed the maximum they could legally contribute to Abdul El-Sayed:
- $50,000 from Ashwin Vasan (New York)
- $10,000 from Aisha Jukaku (New York)
- $10,000 from Hasan Rizvi (California)
- $10,000 from Masarath Haque (Massachusetts)
According to a search of the campaign finance database, only Ms. Jukaku had ever previously contributed to Rep. Hammoud through his campaign committee, Friends of Abdullah Hammoud, in much smaller amounts ($50 in 2016 and $250 in 2018). The other donors have no records of contributions to Friends of Hammoud or Hammoud for Michigan.
- The next day, on August 1, 2018, Hammoud for Michigan contributed $61,200 to the campaign committee of Abdul El-Sayed.
- The Michigan Campaign Finance Act prohibits making a contribution to a committee with the understanding that it will be passed on to another candidate. Mich. Comp. Laws § 169.271. As the Michigan Candidate Manual explains, “A person cannot give a contribution to another person with the understanding or agreement that the contribution will be passed on to a particular Candidate Committee.” https://mertsplus.com/mertsuserguide/index.php?n=MANUALCAN.ContributionsAndOtherReceipts#canprohib. Nor may a candidate committee “accept a contribution with the agreement or arrangement that the committee will transfer the contribution to a particular Candidate Committee.” https://mertsplus.com/mertsuserguide/index.php?n=MANUALS.AppendixO
- Given the timing and donor history, it is inconceivable that all of these donors, out of the blue, decided to make contribution to the Hammoud PAC and that the Hammoud PAC would then move all of the money to the El-Sayed campaign without a shared understanding of what would happen. These contributions from out-of-state contributors who have already maxed-out their contributions to Abdul El-Sayed, and have no record of similarly large contributions to Rep. Hammoud, clearly point to an illegal “understanding or agreement” to move money to Abdul El-Sayed.
It seems to be a theme for Democrats, and particularly Muslim candidates. Also in Michigan: U.S. House hopeful Tlaib pays self salary from campaign funds