LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's reelection campaign, citing a 37-year-old administrative ruling related to candidates facing recall elections, is not observing the donation limits that normally apply to candidates under Michigan law, allowing her to raise millions more through wealthy donors than would normally be allowed.
Invoking the 1984 declaratory ruling by former Michigan Secretary of State Richard Austin, combined with her high national profile, has resulted in five-figure and in some cases six-figure donations to Whitmer's campaign from well-known national figures in the TV and movie industries, technology, and philanthropy, campaign finance records filed Monday show.
Michael Eisner, the former chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Co. and former president of Paramount Pictures, gave $10,000 to the Whitmer campaign, records show. James L. Brooks, whose company Gracie Films produced the TV show "The Simpsons" and the films "Broadcast News" and "Jerry Maguire," gave $25,000.
Individual donations to gubernatorial campaigns, which are indexed to inflation, would normally be capped at $7,150. That is also the donation limit that will apply for any Republican candidates who attempt to unseat Whitmer in her expected bid for a second four-year term.
Austin's ruling said it is only fair to remove the cap on donations for candidates facing recall, since recall committees can accept unlimited donations.
But Whitmer's invoking of the recall rule is controversial. Although 30 proposed Whitmer recall petitions have been submitted to the Board of State Canvassers, and eight have been approved, none appears to be well-funded or collecting signatures in any organized manner.
"More money in politics is not the answer," Whitmer said in her "Michigan Sunshine Plan" for her 2018 campaign, calling for reversal of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed certain political action committees to raise and spend unlimited amounts.
Whitmer's report shows that the national profile she gained while verbally sparring with former President Donald Trump during much of the coronavirus pandemic is paying dividends for her campaign, especially when coupled with the campaign's decision to blow past normal donor limits.
Of the nearly 7,900 individual donations of $100 or more (not including donations from political action committees) totaling $7.67 million that Whitmer has received so far this year, 35% of them have come from outside the state, and they total nearly $3.5 million, or 45% of the money she has received from such donors.
That is up considerably from Whitmer's earlier fund-raising, when only 24% of the donations of $100 or more came from outside Michigan and those out-of-state donors accounted for only 17% of the money she raised from individual donors.
No state has given Whitmer more support this year than California, where 650 donations totaling just over $850,000 originated. Whitmer also received 228 donations from the state of New York, totaling close to $317,000, records show.
In addition to Eisner and Brooks, well-known donors from outside Michigan include:
- James "Jimmy" Miller, president of Mosaic Media Inc., a producer and talent manager whose film credits include "Bad Teacher," "Land of the Lost," and "Get Smart," gave $15,000.
- Broadway producer and philanthropist Edward W. "Ted" Snowdon, Jr. gave $20,000 in the current cycle, raising his total donation to the Whitmer campaign to $26,000.
- Marcy Carsey, a TV producer who while at ABC developed the sitcoms "Happy Days," "Mork & Mindy," and "Soap," gave $10,000.
- Reid Garrett Hoffman, the Internet entrepreneur who co-founded LinkedIn, gave $32,150.
- Arn Tellem, a Los Angeles resident who is vice chairman of Palace Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Detroit Pistons. Tellem and his wife Nancy gave $31,000.
- Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a member of the family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain, gave $250,000.
- Mary R. Morgan, an author, psychotherapist, and the daughter of former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, gave $10,000.
- Ryan McInerney, president of credit card company Visa, and his wife Angela gave $24,300.
- Stephen M. Silberstein, founder and first president of Innovative Interfaced, a company that supplied software to automate libraries, gave $100,000.
- Billionaire Colorado philanthropist Patricia "Pat" Stryker gave $250,000. She is the granddaughter of the founder of the medical technology company Stryker Corp. and the sister of Jon Stryker, the Kalamazoo-born billionaire philanthropist and Stryker heir known for his support of liberal causes.
- New York philanthropist Agnes Gund, president of the Museum of Modern Art, gave $25,000.
- Bernard Schwartz, a New York billionaire philanthropist and retired industrialist who is the former chairman of the defense electronics firm Loral Corp., gave $25,000.
- Win McCormack, editor of the magazine The New Republic, gave $25,000.
Mark Fisk, a spokesman for the Whitmer campaign, said the campaign is taking the threat of a recall election seriously and will not be taking its foot off the gas in terms of fund-raising.
"We are just rolling up our sleeves and getting busy," Fisk said. "We intend to be very competitive in terms of getting our message across."
The more than $8.5 million Whitmer raised so far this year set a record for fund-raising in an election off-year and leaves the governor with more than $10 million in the bank to face a Republican challenger in 2022.
Fisk said Whitmer has received donations from more than 25,000 contributors, with most of them based in Michigan and more than 22,000 of the donations being less than $200. Whitmer has also received donations from every county in the state, he said.