By SIMON D. SCHUSTER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING (August 3, 2020) — With all the drama of a soap opera, the first approved recall ballot petition effort against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has canceled its signature collection amid allegations that the founder, Chad Baase, used the committee’s funds for personal use.
The Committee To Recall Governor Gretchen Whitmer has fractured in recent days as organizers cut ties with Baase, who they said had become unreliable and acting suspiciously.
Baase, who is also running as a Republican for the 62nd Michigan House district, has flatly denied most allegations — except that money is missing.
David Blair, a volunteer with no previous political experience, served as the committee’s informal manager and spoke with Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Blair and Baase’s accounts of their time working together are filled with grievances and squabbles, each with no shortage of animosity for the other.
“I think he had a gambling addiction,” Blair told MCFN. “I think he dipped into the (committee's) fund when his personal money was gone.”
Blair provided transaction records and a text conversation which purport to show Baase had admitted to a discrepancy in the committee’s finances close to $2,000.
According to the messages supplied by Blair, he messaged Baase on July 7, “We are shy like $1600-$1900. The website payment declined.”
Baase replied, “I got burned by Becka, I will make up for it within the week.”
In a subsequent interview Baase claimed this woman, an ex-girlfriend, had stolen cash raised at a fundraiser on July 4 and on other occasions. Despite their relationship, Baase said he didn’t know her last name and never filed a police report.
Blair alleged the PayPal account he had access to also had missing funds. On June 15, more than $1,700 was withdrawn from the PayPal account to a Homestead Savings Bank account. Blair said he never had access to the bank account, which Baase said was set up for the committee. The change in bank has not been reported to the Secretary of State.
Baase is listed as both the designated record keeper and treasurer for the committee. He has yet to file a campaign finance statement for the past quarter, which was due July 27.
Eric Doster, an attorney specializing in Michigan’s campaign finance, said that while the law doesn’t specifically mention this scenario, if ballot committee funds had been spent for personal uses that would be prohibited.
“Although the MCFA does not contain a direct prohibition for other types of committees, personal use certainly cannot be allowed,” he said in an email.
Michigan politicians have a number of legal ways to pay their expenses with donated money, most notably by using nonprofits that don’t have to disclose their donors. But that's ostensibly for job-related costs.
Baase, for his part, alleges Blair is preventing him from filing. “He has been withholding a significant amount of documentation needed for compliance,” he told MCFN in an interview. Blair countered that before leaving the effort he had offered Baase everything he had access to, Baase has everything needed to file and has simply forgotten his login information.
Blair remains in control of the original Facebook page and 7,000-member group, which Baase contends belong to the committee — he's since created a rival online presence. These are one of many on the social media platform, as recall efforts struggle to coalesce into a unified campaign.
Blair estimated Baase’s committee had raised between $10,000 and $12,000 in total, far less than what past ballot committees have needed to succeed, and acknowledged they were on a “shoestring” budget. He said the majority of that money had been spent legitimately.
He and other volunteers intend to continue their efforts with a new ballot committee, Jim Makowski’s Guarding Against Government Excess. Makowski has placed numerous recall petitions before the Board of State Convassers.
Baase also has a checkered history. He was paroled in February while serving a two to five-year prison sentence for operating while intoxicated. In 2013 he had been convicted of making a false report or threat of terrorism for threatening to poison Calhoun County water towers after losing a custody battle. He told MCFN this recall effort has been a “full-time pursuit” since his release.
Meanwhile, a separate campaign finance complaint has been filed against Baase’s committee byHeather Drouin, alleging the recall effort has violated Michigan campaign finance law by using PayPal, and not a Michigan bank, to store their funds. It also alleges the lack of a disclaimer on the ballot committee’s merchandise constitutes another violation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act (MCFA). She declined to comment for this story.
Blair said he intends to detail his allegations in a complaint of his own.
While Baase may be down, he says he’s not out. Despite withdrawing his current petition language, he intends to start a new recall effort — one he claimed would have recall petitions circulating for Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel all at once. Whether that will come to pass remains to be seen.
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