Advance Notice: Briefs

Shirkey-tied group donated $550K to Unlock Michigan

By: - February 2, 2021 11:01 am

“Unlock Michigan” petition booth at the Second Amendment March at the Capitol, Sept. 17, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

A group with connections to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) donated more than half a million dollars to the embattled anti-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer group “Unlock Michigan” group in 2020, according to newly filed campaign finance disclosures.

Unlock Michigan turned in signatures last year to dump a law Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to issue COVID-19 orders, but the Secretary of State has not completed the verification process yet. If there are enough signatures, the GOP-led Legislature could approve the measure or it would go before voters. In the meantime, the Michigan Supreme Court overturned the law and the Department of Health and Human Services has issued epidemic orders instead of the governor.

The group has been under investigation by Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office since September over allegations that the group may have engaged in criminal activity to gather more signatures for their petition drive to limit Whitmer’s executive powers.

Shirkey has ties to Michigan! My Michigan! and has publicly raised money for the group by headlining some of its fundraising events. Since Michigan! My Michigan! is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, it does not have to reveal its donors or otherwise reveal where its money comes from.

Unlock Michigan, however, is required to and filed on Monday its annual campaign finance report.

The state’s campaign finance database reveals that Michigan! My Michigan! gave five direct contributions to Unlock Michigan over a period of less than three months last year: $100,000 on Aug. 6, $100,000 on Aug. 20, $100,000 on Aug. 21, $150,000 on Oct. 1 and $100,000 on Oct. 21 for a total of $550,000.

This is not Shirkey’s first connection to the right-wing Unlock Michigan group, which has been among the most active organizations fighting back against Whitmer’s public health orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In December, Shirkey teamed up with Unlock Michigan to write a fundraising email for the group that read as a call to action for Michigan citizens to keep fighting against COVID-19 business restrictions, as the Advance reported.

“Gretchen Whitmer is the only thing standing in the way,” Shirkey wrote in the email.

Shirkey revealed in January that he was diagnosed with COVID in December.

Michigan has more than 560,000 coronavirus cases and more than 14,600 deaths.

“Mike Shirkey has spent the past year openly antagonizing Gov. Whitmer and working to undermine her common-sense public health policies, so it’s no surprise that he supports the goals of ‘Unlock Michigan,’” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of the liberal group Progress Michigan. “But these reports show just how far Shirkey will go in his efforts to hamstring Gov. Whitmer’s efforts to keep Michiganders safe, all while disingenuously claiming she’s the one who refuses to work together.”

Shirkey has frequently been mentioned as a challenger to Whitmer in 2022, but has denied interest in running in recent media interviews.

Whitmer’s campaign announced Monday it has raised more than $5.5 million this cycle and has $3.5 million in the bank.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.