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Michigan Senate passes bill to tighten spending rules for candidates facing recall petitions

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Elected officials facing recall would have new restrictions on how they can use donations under a bill passed in the Michigan Senate Tuesday.

The issue drew Republican attention when Governor Gretchen Whitmer used the multiple recall petitions against her to fundraise heavily last year.

Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake), who's sponsoring the bill, said Whitmer used those funds inappropriately.

“I can’t think of anything that would make the public more frustrated about a shift and shaft where they think, the donor thinks, the public thinks, this is going to be used to fight a recall, and the money is directed over to someplace else,” Runestad told reporters after the legislative session Tuesday.

The legislation would end a policy that now allows candidates facing a recall effort to accept donations larger than the usual limits. It stems from a 1984 ruling from then-Secretary of State Richard Austin.

The bill would also require recall candidates to return unspent funds to donors after their challenge ends.

Runestad said that part, along with separating recall funds from general campaign funds, are the most important elements of his bill.

“If you’re under recall, maybe the other side’s going to have a lot of money. It’s not how much money is raised. To me, it is that if there is not a recall, the money gets returned,” he said.

The bill passed the Senate on a party line 21-15 vote, with one Republican member excused and a Democratic member not voting.

During the committee process, it faced opposition from the Michigan Department of State. Spokesperson Tracy Wimmer said it would put incumbents at an unfair disadvantage.

“It seems to allow organizations seeking an official’s recall to raise, then, unlimited funds while gathering signatures. Meanwhile, the targeted official would not be allowed to do the same until after the signatures are verified. So, it really just creates more problems than it solves,” Wimmer said.

The department expressed fairness concerns about a similar bill in the House.

That legislation has bipartisan sponsorship.

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