Breaking: Complaint alleges Michigan GOP lawmakers got illegal campaign money from ALEC 

By: - July 28, 2021 5:33 am

Susan J. Demas graphic

At least two Michigan Republican lawmakers allegedly received illegal campaign contributions from a national nonprofit that has ties to the Republican National Committee (RNC) and works with corporate lobbyists to push conservative legislation in state legislatures across the country, according to a complaint set to be filed Wednesday by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD).

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which connects corporate lobbyists and lawmakers to develop corporate-friendly legislation, allegedly provided Reps. Matt Hall (R-Marshall) and Jim Lilly (R-Park Twp.) with free voter management and campaign software worth thousands of dollars during the 2020 election cycle, violating federal law prohibiting nonprofits from engaging in electoral activity, according to the unfiled complaint. 

The CMD, a Madison, Wisc.-based progressive nonprofit watchdog, is expected to file the complaint with the Michigan Department of State. A copy of the complaint was provided to Michigan Advance.

Rep. Matt Hall

The nonprofit allegedly gave Hall and Lilly, ALEC’s current Michigan public sector state chairs, a program known as “ALEC CARE,” which the organization bills as a constituent services program but is actually a platform meant to help Republicans win office, the complaint said. 

Hall, Lilly and ALEC did not return requests for comment. 

ALEC CARE is developed by Voter Gravity, a for-profit company run by Ned Ryun, the founder and president of American Majority, a right-wing candidate training operation, and American Majority Action, its voter mobilization affiliate. Voter Gravity markets the software, which ALEC provides to at least some, if not all, of its 2,000 legislative members across the country, as a “‘powerful’ tool for political campaigns from ‘an approved mobile app vendor for the Republican National Committee and fully integrated with the RNC’s database,’” according to the complaint.

A whistleblower provided CMD with information allegedly showing that ALEC members who use the CARE program have access to voters’ party affiliation, ideology, income, education, religion, Tea Party support, voting history, precinct information, and more, the complaint said. This data can be used to help political campaigns, including by creating “door knocking” lists and phone calling goals, as well as tracking supporters, the CMD said in the complaint. Additionally, once state lawmakers enter information about voters into the CARE platform, it is allegedly added to RNC’s database, “thereby directly benefiting the Republican Party,” the complaint said.

Versions of the complaint are slated to be filed in 14 other states: Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Two other watchdog groups, Washington, D.C.-based Common Cause, and Alliance for a Better Utah, are also involved in filing some of the complaints.

“It is crystal clear from CMD’s investigation and internal ALEC sources that the CARE program provided by ALEC is just a repackaging of Voter Gravity’s highly partisan campaign software, designed to help Republicans win and retain elected office,” CMD Executive Director Arn Pearson said in a Tuesday statement announcing the complaint. “ALEC CARE is a brazen scheme to help ALEC’s overwhelmingly Republican members win reelection.”

CMD filed a separate complaint with the Internal Revenue Service on July 20, alleging that ALEC illegally provided campaign contributions worth more than $6 million in the 2020 election cycle by making the campaign software available to its members.

ALEC spokesperson Alexis Jarrett told the Associated Press that the nonprofit’s “data is not shared with any political party and no political party shares data with ALEC.” Jarrett also told the AP that the ALEC CARE login page requests that members agree not to use the platform for campaign purposes.

Lilly
Rep. Jim Lilly

Other Michigan Republicans may have also received the campaign platform, but the complaint points out that CMD does not know what other legislators are in the organization because the nonprofit does not make its membership public. 

If Hall, Lilly or any other legislator used the Voter Gravity software provided by ALEC to support their campaigns, a failure to disclose it as a contribution in their campaign finance reports is a violation of state law, the complaint said. It is unknown if Hall 一 the House Oversight Committee chair who invited former President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to Lansing to testify about false allegations of election fraud in the 2020 election 一 or Lilly used the program during last year’s election, but neither lawmaker disclosed the contributions on their campaign finance reports. 

As part of its complaint, the CMD is asking Michigan’s Department of State to investigate the alleged campaign finance law violations by ALEC, Hall and Lilly and “impose the appropriate penalties for all violations of law found.” 

CMD also requested that the Department of State use its subpoena powers to obtain a full list of ALEC members in Michigan who received the free voter management software for their 2020 campaigns and whether the software was used by legislators or their staff on state time or in state offices.

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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is the assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats include economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country. She began her journalism career reporting on state politics in Wisconsin and has gone on to cover government, racial justice and immigration reform in New York City, education in Connecticut, the environment in Wyoming, and more. Previously, Anna lived in Argentina and Morocco, and, when she’s not working, she’s often trying to perfect the empanada and couscous recipes she fell in love with in these countries. You’ll likely also find her working on her century-old home in downtown Lansing, writing that ever-elusive novel and hiking throughout Michigan.

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