Gretchen Whitmer Can Keep $4M Donated While Facing Recall After Judge Tosses Suit

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is allowed to keep around $4 million donated to her reelection campaign after a federal judge tosses the lawsuit against her.

On Tuesday, District Judge Janet Neff ruled that Republican chairman Ron Weiser and the party were unsuccessful in proving they had been inflicted a "concrete and particularized injury." Neff also said they could have given recall committees against Whitmer, a Democrat, unlimited amounts of money but did not.

Republicans said they would appeal the ruling.

The Michigan Republican Party first filed the lawsuit back in September to prevent Whitmer's reelection campaign from collecting donations exceeding the $7,150 per-person limit, according to the Associated Press. The lawsuit claimed that a recall exception placed an unconstitutional burden upon political speech and equal protection rights, hindering Republicans who experience "unequal treatment under the law." The lawsuit alleged that the recall rule provided the governor with a competitive advantage.

However, a 1983 interpretive statement, along with a 1984 declaratory ruling from the secretary of state at the time, permits such excess donations when a state officeholder is experiencing a possible recall.

The party also attempted to place an emergency restraining order to block Whitmer's excess donations, which Neff also denied, The Detroit News reported.

Neff said that if someone filed a lawsuit every time someone else raised more money than them, "we'd be here all of the time," according to The Detroit News.

"God knows we don't want that," Neff said, The Detroit News reported.

Gretchen Whitmer, Tossed lawsuit, Excess Donations
District Judge Janet Neff said the GOP Party could have given recall committees against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, unlimited amounts of money but did not. In this photo, Whitmer speaks at the start of the 2021 Motor Bella auto show on September 21, 2021, in Pontiac, Michigan. Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Since the lawsuit, the state elections bureau has dismissed a separate campaign finance complaint brought by a conservative group. But it has reiterated that Whitmer's campaign must "disgorge" recall-designated contributions since no recall election was held after activists' longshot efforts in 2020 and 2021 fell far short of the necessary voter signatures.

The funds that were not spent on litigation or other recall-defense activities can be given to political parties or charities.

Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's department said the recall doctrine creates the potential for future abuse by allowing excess donations to be used for what would otherwise amount to campaign advertising. It said that although the record does not show that Whitmer's committee did that, a future committee could.

The department said it would welcome the opportunity to consider the issue further if someone were to ask for a declaratory ruling, but that it could not overturn past precedents while addressing the complaint filed by the Michigan Freedom Fund.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is allowed to keep around $4 million donated to her reelection campaign after a federal judge tosses the lawsuit against her. In the picture above, Whitmer is speaking during a drive-in campaign rally with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama at Belle Isle on October 31, 2020, in Detroit, Michigan. Getty Images