You would think this would make for an open and shut campaign finance complaint for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, but you would be wrong.
This past January, Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wrigglesworth knowingly used public resources to announce his re-election campaign. Wrigglesworth, a first term Democrat, admitted he “made the mistake of using a county owned platform [to announce his re-election], which I should not have done.''
If the admission of the accused wasn’t enough to persuade Secretary Benson to find a violation, you’d think fellow Democrat and Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum admonishing the law breaking lawman for his “clear intent to use County resources to further [his] election to office” would do the trick.
Again, you would be wrong.
Despite both an admission and apology from Wrigglesworth, and Byrum’s letter, Benson, who also happens to be a democrat, allowed an informal resolution of the complaint that admitted no wrongdoing and assessed a fine of a paltry $100.00. An individual who knowingly violates section 57 of Michigan Campaign Finance Act (MCFA) is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $1,000 or imprisonment for up to 1 year. MCL 169.257(4).
Elected officials, particularly law enforcement officers, using public resources to further their re-election efforts is a gross violation of the public trust. Insead of holding violators accountable, Secretary of State Benson continues to administer a “feather tickle on the wrists,” allowing public officials to admit no wrongdoing under the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, as long as they pay a token fine.
This should come as no surprise to those following Benson’s enforcement of MCFA. Earlier this year, Benson allowed Build A Better Michigan to illegally use over $2 million of undisclosed money to expressly advocate for democrat gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer’s election. The punishment for the violation: no admission of wrongdoing and a fine amounting to 2% of the ad buy. (And Gretchen Whitmer, who illegally coordinated with the group by appearing in their ads, got off scott-free!)
At the time, our own Tony Daunt opined that “Benson has declared that violations of Michigan campaign finance law will essentially go unpunished.” Through her paltry penalties, Jocelyn Benson has set a dangerous precedent that will only encourage future would-be violators to break the law and undermine our elections.
Anthony Markwort is the Advocacy Director for the Michigan Freedom Fund.