By CRAIG MAUGER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING — A former state lawmaker has formally requested that the Attorney General’s Office and Secretary of State’s Office investigate a State of the City luncheon that involved public resources while doubling as a fundraiser for a political action committee (PAC).
In a letter to Attorney General Bill Schuette, former State Rep. Leon Drolet, chair of the Michigan Taxoayers Alliance who’s also a candidate for the Macomb County Commission, alleges that Warren Mayor James Fouts’ 2016 State of the City address was “a blatant, open and obvious use of taxpayer resources” that helped a PAC raise money.
“They used paid staff time, city mailings, city phones, the city logo and city equipment to promote and staff a PAC fundraiser during regular city work hours,” Drolet said in his complaint to the Secretary of State. “The cost to taxpayers is staggering. The PAC can now use those funds to support whatever candidate or ballot proposal it wants and the taxpayers paid the cost.”
According to campaign finance records, the April 7 event in Warren, which is Michigan’s third largest city, raised about $20,510 for the Macomb Business United PAC, which is led by a Fouts appointee, Gust Ghanam.
However, according to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by MCFN, city employees produced video footage that accompanied Fouts’ speech, and on at least one occasion, the mayor’s office directed someone on how to buy tickets for the fundraiser through its official email account. In one email, a city employee said she was “really buried” with tasks preparing for the event.
In addition, a notice about the event, which included the ticket price and the telephone number for the mayor’s office, allegedly ran in a document mailed out with city water bills. The program for the event also featured both the PAC’s logo and the city’s logo.
“The evidence is overwhelming,” Drolet wrote in his complaint to the Secretary of State. “High-ranking Warren city officials, at the direction of the mayor, used substantial public resources to plan, staff, furnish and promote a political action committee fundraiser.”
Fouts’ office has not responded to repeated requests for comment about the State of the City address. Ghanam said last month, that every law was followed and that criticism was an attempted “political assassination.”
MCFN first wrote about the address on May 20. You can read that piece here.
While there are some exceptions, Michigan law generally prohibits public bodies, like the City of Warren, from making campaign contributions and expenditures that support candidates or ballot proposals.
In February, Schuette announced misconduct-in-office changes against two former State House members, Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat. Gamrat was expelled from the House in 2015, and Courser resigned as an alternative to expulsion. Among the reasons for their expulsions was the misuse of public funds for personal matters. Drolet specifically requested that Schuette review the Warren situation for the possibility of misconduct-in-office violations similar to the ones alleged against Courser and Gamrat. In a phone interview, Drolet alleged that the Warren situation involved substantially more public resources than the Courser and Gamrat situation.
“It’s not to excuse what Gamrat and Courser did,” Drolet said. “But that was essentially emails being sent out and some staff time.”
Drolet’s complaint to Secretary of State Ruth Johnson was dated May 23. His letter to Schuette was dated May 24. As of Tuesday, he said he hadn’t heard a response. You can read Drolet’s full complaint here.