Attorney Mark Brewer and members of the Board of State Canvassers discuss recall petitions filed against multiple Democratic lawmakers during a board meeting on Aug. 21, 2023. | Kyle Davidson
Attorney Mark Brewer on Monday presented the Board of State Canvassers with evidence he argued proves recall petitions filed against multiple state lawmakers did not have grassroots origins.
“These are not spontaneous grassroots efforts at all. They’re being organized and coordinated statewide, with the involvement of at least one out-of-state [political action committee], and a number of other individuals inside the state,” Brewer said.
Over the past month individuals have filed and refiled recall petitions against a number of state lawmakers. Those petitions target lawmakers for supporting the state’s new red flag laws and an effort in the legislature to expand the state’s definition of hate crimes.
While most have been rejected by the Board of State Canvassers, petitions against state Reps. Sharon MacDonell (D-Troy) and Cam Cavitt (R-Cheboygan) have been approved. The petitioners took issue with MacDonell’s yes vote supporting the House version of red flag gun legislation, and Cavitt’s yes vote to elect Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) as speaker of the Michigan House.
During the board’s Aug. 1 meeting, members of the board discussed whether those filing the petitions acted individually, or if there were organizations driving the efforts that need to be documented.
At the Aug. 1 meeting, Brewer, who represents the Democratic lawmakers named in the petitions, noted the handwriting on some of the petitions was the same, saying this suggests an organizer behind the recall effort. However, Gerald Clixby, who filed and refiled a petition to recall Rep. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield), said the petitions were a grassroots effort and mentioned organizations like the Michigan Conservative Union, the Michigan Conservation Coalition and “some tea party groups.”
The Michigan Conservative Coalition registered as a political action committee (PAC) in 2015, according to its statement of organization. The Michigan Conservative Union, founded in 1975, describes itself as a conservative, grassroots, non-profit organization.
The Advance reached out to the email address listed on Clixby’s refiled petition from Aug. 4; Clixby did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
None of the petitioners spoke at Monday’s meeting.
During Monday’s meeting, Brewer presented the board with documents he said he had obtained in recent days, including emails, a text message, and a photo of a printed flier calling for Arbit’s recall. The Board of State Canvassers have rejected two recall petitions against Arbit, with the most recent rejection occurring on Monday.
“[You can] see clearly that it advocates for his recall. It gives a phone number. It gives an email address which a person can contact to pursue the recall. It even includes a disclaimer, though defective. But at least there’s an attempt to put a disclaimer there,” Brewer said.
“This is obviously, we believe, evidence that there is an organized effort, certainly behind Mr. Arbit’s attempted recall if not others,” Brewer said.
The Florida Igloo PAC is listed on the flier advocating for Arbit’s recall. It was formed in March 2023, according to a statement of organization filed with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office. The mailing address for the committee is located in Blountville, Tenn. with the bank for the committee listed as a Wells Fargo located in Bristol, Va.
While the flier advocating for Arbit’s recall said it was paid for by the committee, campaign finance reports filed by the PAC in July list no contributions or expenditures for this calendar year, with a total ending balance of $0.
“This Tennessee PAC, they claim they paid for this piece against Rep. Arbit. But if you look at their campaign finance report … they report no contributions and no expenditures. How could that be? Either they paid for this and they’re lying on their report, or they didn’t pay it and the disclaimer’s a lie,” Brewer said.
Rebecca Porta, whose number was listed as the committee phone number for the Florida Igloo PAC, did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Mark Beeler of Rochester, who answered at the number printed on the flier, said it’s possible the committee had contributed funding after the filing deadline for campaign finance reports.
When asked about the flier, Beeler said the number listed would be used for contact information if a petition to recall Arbit is approved. He said the flier is not in production for distribution.
“I don’t think the flier is complete. I don’t think you’re looking at a finished work,” Beeler said.
Brewer also referred board members to an email from the Lakes Area Tea Party, which asked members to meet at Metro Detroit Christian Church on Sunday for a call to action meeting about the effort to recall Arbit.
When the initial petition was filed against Arbit in July, Arbit released a statement calling the recall effort against him “baseless.” The petition cited Arbit’s support for House Bill 4474, which would expand the state’s hate crimes law to include members of the LGBTQ+ community and disabled Michiganders.
The lawmaker said in July that the recall petition was “designed to overturn the democratic will” of voters, and he plans on continuing to introduce and support legislation like House Bill 4474.
“I wrote it and I sponsored it – in one of the proudest, most meaningful moments of my life,” Arbit said in July. “I will never apologize for fighting to protect ALL Michiganders from hate violence, and I will never be intimidated or cowed out of achieving my mission.”
Brewer also shared a text message sent by Daniel Lawless, dated Wednesday, Aug. 16, organizing a training meeting for Monday evening centered on gathering signatures for Rep. Kelly Breen’s (D-Novi) recall petition based on expectations that the petition would be approved.
The Lakes Area Tea Party did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
The board on Monday rejected the petition for Breen’s recall with a 2-1 vote, citing a lack of clarity.
The board’s vice chair, Richard Houskamp, expressed concern about organizations potentially working behind the scenes to file recall petitions.
“We have individuals who are approaching this board, filing these petitions…The reality is, is that there’s someone, some organization or multiple organizations who remain anonymous who are behind the scenes,” Houskamp said at the meeting.
“It just seems like that’s so against anything, anything ethical,” he said.
While the board discussed concerns about the petitions’ origins and whether they should have included committee disclosures at its Aug.1 meeting, Chair Mary Ellen Gurewitz said the state Attorney General’s Office advised the board that it is not their job to determine whether the form of the petition is sufficient.
“It appears to me, certainly, that our job is to determine whether the petition is factual and of sufficient clarity, not to determine whether there ought to be a disclaimer. Even if we think there should be, it’s not our job to pass on that,” Gurewitz said.
Once the petitions have been submitted and filed with a sufficient number of signatures, the Michigan Secretary of State determines whether the petition is in the proper form, which is when questions on the lack of a disclaimer will be addressed.
Following approval by the Board of State Canvassers, a petitioner has 60 days to gather a number of signatures equal to 25% of the votes cast within the district during the last general election, beginning when the first signature is collected. The petition must be submitted to the Michigan Secretary of State within 180 days of its approval.
After the meeting, Brewer told reporters that he will be filing campaign finance complaints against all of the petitions’ sponsors — including those who submitted petitions considered at the board’s Aug. 1 meeting — as well as the individuals and organizations he referenced during Monday’s meeting and others.
“We’re going to hold them accountable,” he said.
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