Advance Notice: Briefs

Nessel won’t criminally charge Michigan GOP chair for ‘insidious’ $200K payoff

By: - August 23, 2021 1:48 pm

Michigan Republican Party office, Lansing | Susan J. Demas

Updated, 3:23 p.m., 8/23/21

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Monday that her office will not criminally charge Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser for using Michigan GOP funds to pay former Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot for his withdrawal from the 2018 Secretary of State race. 

Weiser paid a $200,000 fine through a conciliation agreement last month after the Michigan Department of State found that seven payments made by the Michigan Republican Party’s administrative account to Grot violated the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. The payments were made between August 2018 and February 2019.  

Michigan GOP Chair Ron Weiser | Michigan GOP photo

Nessel, a Democrat, said that the agreement “acts as a complete bar to any criminal action related to this behavior,” and would not pursue any further action in a memo sent to Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud on Aug. 16. 

Neither of Weiser’s roles in the Michigan Republican Party — current chairman of the Michigan GOP and past party delegate — constitute him as a public official under Michigan law. Thus, Nessel said he cannot be criminally charged as a public official. 

In a statement, Nessel said the Public Integrity Unit will continue to investigate allegations of corruption because “the fate of free and fair elections in our state demands no less.”

“Paying a candidate for office to withdraw from a statewide election is no doubt insidious behavior that diminishes and undermines our democracy,” Nessel said. “However, under the circumstances presented, Mr. Weiser’s use of political party funds to manipulate the nomination for the office of Secretary of State for the 2018 Michigan Republican Convention did not allow for criminal charges to be generated.”

John Inhulsen, Michigan Republican Party general counsel, said in an emailed statement to the Advance that Nessel was “correct” in her decision to criminally charge Weiser for what he did. 

“It shouldn’t have taken an investigation and waste of taxpayer dollars to figure that out,” Inhulsen said.

Inhulsen added that “hopefully” Nessel now has the “necessary time and resources” to investigate Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s nursing home policies during COVID-19 and “illegal” campaign contributions, as Republicans have blasted the governor for raising millions to fight recall attempts. Nessel has told GOP lawmakers there’s no evidence of wrongdoing in Whitmer’s handling of nursing homes and she is not launching a probe.

Nessel’s announcement comes after former Michigan GOP Chair Laura Cox filed the initial complaint against Weiser in February for allegedly making payments to Grot during Weiser’s tenure as chair from 2017 to 2019. She claimed that Weiser was the man behind the payoff to get Grot out of the race in order to boost Mary Treder Lang for the nomination in the 2018 secretary of state’s race. 

Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson went on to win that race. 

Earlier this year, Weiser called Nessel, along with Whitmer and Benson,“three witches” and said Republicans should ensure “they are ready for the burning at the stake” in the 2022 election.

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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.