News Story

Campaign finance violation puts Nessel, Benson on opposite sides

Nessel has advocated for a group Benson referred to Nessel for criminal prosecution

A campaign finance violation by a national nonprofit group backing a campaign for a $15 minimum wage in Michigan puts Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, both Democrats, at odds.

When One Fair Wage Action made its 2022 endorsements for the August primary in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Nessel made the cut. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson did not.

While Nessel has spoken in favor of the campaign by the Cambridge, Massachusetts, nonprofit to push for a $15 minimum wage in Michigan, and even advocated for the Michigan Supreme Court to rule in its favor in another case, Benson has raised concerns about One Fair Wage’s campaign spending.

On Aug. 29, 2022, the Secretary of State’s Bureau of Elections notified One Fair Wage Action of a complaint against it.

The complaint alleged that One Fair Wage Action was used as a vehicle to shield the identities of donors behind $1.8 million in contributions to Raise The Wage, the ballot committee, between December 2021 and April 2022.

At the time, Raise The Wage was pursuing a 2022 ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage in Michigan to $15 per hour. In the end, they held off on the effort and will seek a spot on the 2024 ballot.

The $1.8 million accounted for 99.9% of Raise the Wage’s donations at the time, the complaint alleged, which the state investigation affirmed. The complaint was filed by the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust.

The state’s first letter to One Wage Fair Action, and another on Sept. 29, went unanswered. On Nov. 30, the elections bureau determined that One Fair Wage Action had violated campaign finance law.

“Given that contributions by One Fair Wage Action to Raise the Wage were closely followed by expenditures Raise the Wage made to other entities totaling an almost identical value, it is clear that One Fair Wage Action coordinated to some extent with Raise the Wage,” the letter read.

The Nov. 30, 2022, letter gave One Fair Wage Action an April 13, 2023, deadline to respond, or else it would refer the matter to Nessel’s office.

In March 2023, Nessel publicly asked the Michigan Supreme Court to weigh in on a court case involving the Legislature’s attempt to deflect a 2018 ballot measure by adopting it into law and then changing its requirements.

The court took the case, and it will hear oral arguments Thursday on whether the “adopt and amend” strategy used by lawmakers in 2018 is constitutional.

“The Legislature adopting an initiative and then amending or repealing it within the same legislative session is contrary to the People’s understanding of our Constitution. It undermines the will of the People, and weakens direct democracy,” Nessel wrote in the March letter. “I am hopeful that the Michigan Supreme Court will weigh in on this important question.”

Despite three letters, One Fair Wage has never responded to the Secretary of State’s correspondence, according to the complaint file.

The 30-page file ends with an April 18, 2023, letter from Michael Brady, chief legal officer at the Michigan Secretary of State, to Nessel, referring the matter for criminal prosecution.

“Please allow this letter to serve as a referral to the Attorney General of the above referenced campaign finance matter for the enforcement of any criminal penalties under the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. MCL 169.215(10)(a),” read Brady’s letter. “If you or your staff would like any additional information regarding this case, please contact this office.”

The attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for an update on the referral.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.