Michigan GOP U.S. Senate candidate John James campaigns at Senor Lopez Restaurant August 13, 2018 in Detroit. | Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
WASHINGTON — Losing U.S. Senate candidate John James created a new joint legal fund with the Republican National Committee on Monday, the latest sign that challenges to the election will be a wholesale GOP strategy, rather than the whims of a president who won’t accept he lost.
James, a Farmington Hills Republican who has now been defeated in two high-profile Michigan Senate races in as many election cycles to both of the state’s incumbent Democratic senators, has refused to concede the election to Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), echoing the same unsubstantiated charges emanating from President Donald Trump about voter fraud and election irregularities.
James is currently down by 84,312 votes, a result that would be difficult, if not unprecedented, to overturn. And while campaign legal funds are not necessarily uncommon, the fund is a clear sign the campaign plans to push his message about voting irregularities beyond rhetoric and take the campaign to the courtroom.
That’s because campaign legal funds, sometimes called recount funds, are highly regulated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and can only be used to finance legal issues surrounding a campaign.
“The money can only be used for recounts and legal contests about the election,” said Adav Noti, of the Washington, D.C.-based election reform group the Campaign Legal Center. “A candidate wouldn’t normally set up and fundraise for one of these accounts unless they were at least thinking about a challenge because the money is very purpose-limited and you’re going to burn out your donors if you ask them to give to this.”
The fund’s creation means that James can go back to his most dedicated donors and ask them to donate yet again. Although the FEC has hard legal limits on how much an individual donor or political action committee can give to a candidate for election, those limits reset once the election is over. So James could get up to $2,800 per person or $5,000 per political action committee (PAC) for this new campaign.
James said in a statement last week that he has “deep concerns” about election cheating and that there is “enough credible evidence to warrant an investigation.” But his campaign has yet to release that evidence. Peters has called James’ refusal to concede “sad” and “pathetic.”
Meanwhile, James’ election advisors have been casting doubt on the election results, as well. Stu Sandler, a James advisor and general counsel to the Michigan Republican Party, has focused his eye and Twitter account on alleged irregularities and “serious integrity concerns”, primarily at the TCF Center in Detroit.
The TCF Center has already been the subject of a lawsuit. A judicial group affiliated with a Michigan-based Christian conservative nonprofit has sued in the Wayne County Circuit Court alleging issues with the vote counting process in the Detroit convention center. They supplied the court with five affidavits from four Republican poll watchers and a city employee alleging various problems with the vote counting, but the suit does not include any evidence that actual fraud occurred.
Sandler referred a request for comment to his press team, but did not circle back. James’ spokeswoman Abby Walls, meanwhile, did not return a request for comment.
A spokesman for the RNC did not respond to a request for comment, either. And the Massachusetts-based treasurer for James’ new legal fund also did not respond.
The campaign has already begun soliciting donations to the legal fund. A page on the Repubican online fundraising platform WinRed asks contributors to, “Donate now to support the John James Legal Fund.” The page notes that any extra amounts donors give beyond what the campaign can legally accept will go to the RNC’s Legal Proceedings Account.
The party will probably need all the money it can get. Michigan is just one of several battlegrounds where national Republicans have tried to cast doubt on the election results. It is a state that Trump narrowly won in 2016 by 10,704 votes, but where he is now behind President-elect Joe Biden by 146,119 votes.
However, the challenges have so far been unsuccessful. Two separate judges have denied requests from the campaign, one to stop the vote counting and another to delay the certification of the election results. The Trump campaign is appealing a ruling that their allegations of fraud amount to little more than hearsay, but as of Monday, they hadn’t provided the necessary documents for the suit to commence.
All of this might be laying the groundwork for a statewide recount. A recount would not be automatic, since state law only mandates a recount if the election is within 2,000 votes. But the state allows campaigns to request a recount if the request “alleges that the candidate is aggrieved on account of fraud or mistake in the canvass of the votes.”
Evidence is not necessary, as state law notes “the petitioner is only required to allege fraud or a mistake in the petition without further specification.”
Still, that would be a longshot. Even Trump’s former lawyer in the aborted 2016 Michigan recounts has told the press that recounts rarely change more than a few hundred votes, let alone the 100,000 to 150,000 the Trump and James campaigns would need to reverse the results of the election.
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