Activist state

The Michigan State Senate candidate is closely tied to Republican black money groups

Daylen Howard has hired a political operative who is behind black money groups that pay out millions in multiple polls.

Daylen Howard, a Republican running for Michigan’s 28th Senate District, employed consultants with close ties to several non-profit organizations that are under investigation on their funding of ballot initiatives.

campaign finance complaint filed in May 2021 by election attorney Robert LaBrant alleges Michigan Senate Republican Majority Leader Mike Shirkey used “dark money” through nonprofits – Unlock Michigan, Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility and Michigan! My Michigan! — to fund legislative efforts to reduce the executive powers used by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson referred the complaint to the Attorney General’s Office for criminal investigation after finding reason to believe a violation had taken place.

Labrant’s complaint alleges the nonprofits, which funded ballot initiatives on electoral reform, public health and education, violated state law Campaign Finance Act, which requires campaigns to reveal their donors. Campaign finance through nonprofit organizations circumvents this requirement, keeping the money “dark”.

Howard, who is running against the former Michigan State House member and former mayor of East Lansing Sam Singpaid Shining Sparks Strategies more than $14,000 for internal consulting and campaign expenses in 2022, according to campaign finance reports. The firm says it offers “full-service campaign solutions,” including strategy, fundraising, compliance, research and lobbying.

Founder and CFO of Bright Spark Strategies Heather Lombardini is a Republican activist who holds official positions with the groups Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, Michigan! My Michigan! and the Michigan Democracy Guardians. The organizations funneled large sums of money into Unlock Michigan, the voter initiative campaign that successfully rolled back the governor’s executive powers.

The contributions of the three associations constituted almost 90% of funding ballot initiatives, raising legal questions because nonprofits are only allowed to spend money on political issues as long as those issues are not their primary purpose.

“Unlock Michigan is not a spontaneous grassroots effort to repeal the law granting emergency powers to the Governor of Michigan. Unlock was engineered by Senator Mike Shirkey to achieve his political goal of repealing that law, a plan executed by his agents under his direction and control, and funded with his black money,” LaBrant’s complaint reads.

Michigan State Department spokeswoman Tracy Wimmer told the Detroit News that “following the refusal of the groups to conclude a conciliation agreement, the ministry referred the matter to the Attorney General”.

LaBrant’s complaint alleges that Shirkey lifted nearly $2 million for Unlock Michigan, nonprofits acting as a ballot proposal campaign without having to disclose donors. Michigan! My Michigan! gave $550,000 on the initiative. The money was then transferred to the campaign. Together, the three nonprofits have donated a total of $3.3 million to Unlock Michigan.

“Shirkey has used black money on a scale never seen before in Michigan,” LaBrant claims.

The organizations have also channeled significant donations to Secure IM Voting, a ballot initiative that would limit mail-in ballots, strengthen voter identification requirements and ban private donations to fund the election. Of $841,000 raised by Secure MI Vote in 2021, $750,000 came from the Michigan Democracy Guardians.

After the success of the first Unlock Michigan campaign, organizers founded a second black money operation targeting public health initiatives in the state.

Unblock Michigan 2 was a successor campaign to overturn a 1978 public health law that gives the governor emergency powers. In May 2022, its organizers decided not to to put it on the ballot in November, preferring instead to attempt to overthrow it through legislative efforts in 2023. The campaign had used the same fundraising technique, using money from non-profits who do not have to reveal their donors.

Howard, Lombardini and Shirkey did not respond to requests for comment.

Published with permission of the American Independent Foundation.