Schuette Emails Raise Questions Over Possible Campaign Finance Violations

Editor’s Note: The Great Lakes Beacon is a project of Progress Michigan.

Information from a lawsuit claiming whether Attorney General Bill Schuette used his and his staffers’ time during work hours to feed his political ambitions – rather than work related to being attorney general – has been released today by watchdog organization Progress Michigan.

Schuette is running for the Republican nomination for governor this year.

The emails, obtained through the discovery process of the lawsuit filed at the end of May by Hugh Madden, the communications director at Progress Michigan, appear to show numerous individuals on the attorney general’s staff organizing fundraiser barbecues, preparing for Schuette’s nomination at state conventions, participating in meetings and conference calls on presidential endorsements, and performing other political tasks during normal work hours and work days.

The Office of the Attorney General is, like many other positions in state government, paid for by Michigan’s taxpayers. It is illegal, according to the state Constitution, for any state employee who is so publicly paid to do political work, such as campaigning, during business hours while they are being paid to do their specific job – in Schuette’s case, serve as the state’s top attorney. While those folks can take personal leave, vacation or other such time to do that political work, Schuette or his staff have yet to produce the evidence that was indeed the case.

Madden’s case is currently before Judge Christopher M. Murray, who yesterday halted the more than three dozen subpoenas requested by Madden’s lawyer, Mark Brewer, seeking evidence in the case until Murray can rule on whether the case should be dismissed as Schuette has requested. Brewer’s brief is due to Murray on Monday, August 6.

Judge Murray worked for Republican former Governor John Engler, and Engler appointed him as a judge. Engler had endorsed Schuette’s run for office but then requested Schuette no longer tout Engler’s endorsement due to Engler’s new position (at the time) as Michigan State University’s interim president after former President Lou Anna K. Simon resigned amid the disgraceful Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal.

Also yesterday, the Detroit Free Press reported its own investigative work had found Schuette requested – through a personal e-mail during business hours – that AG employees help secure endorsements for then-presidential candidate Jeb Bush in 2016. Whoever secured the most endorsements won gift cards ranging from $50 to $250. The Free Press article said neither Schuette’s attorney general office nor his gubernatorial campaign spokesperson responded to a request for how those gift cards were paid for.

The emails released today by Progress Michigan are expected to be used in both Madden’s lawsuit and in Progress Michigan’s separate complaint being investigated by federal authorities for violations by Schuette of the U.S. Hatch Act, which prohibits campaign-related activities using federal government buildings and resources. Schuette’s office is subject to the Hatch Act because it receives federal funds.

The Hatch Act complaint came in light of an investigation by the Detroit Free Press which found Schuette, leading up to his announcement of running for governor this year, staffed his office with well-known Republican operatives and titled them as “constituents relations” staff.

The Great Lakes Beacon will provide updates to this story as warranted. Links to the emails presented by Progress Michigan can be found here.

Danielle Emerson

Danielle Emerson