Lansing – The Michigan Democratic Party on Thursday resurrected allegations that House Speaker Jase Bolger used taxpayer resources to help state Rep. Roy Schmidt defect to the Republican Party and plant a fake Democrat to be Schmidt’s opponent in a Grand Rapids district.
The complaint seeks a new elections probe by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office and is based on a Kent County prosecutor’s investigation detailing how Bolger’s deputy chief of staff, Phil Browne, filed candidate paperwork for Schmidt and his phony opponent, Matthew Mojzak, a 22-year-old friend of Schmidt’s son and nephew.
Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth and a Michigan State Police investigation cleared Bolger and Schmidt of any crime, though the Republican prosecutor considered their actions an attempt to defraud voters by depriving the electorate of a legitimate alternative to Schmidt.
“This is far from over – either from a legal perspective or from a political perspective,” Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer said at a Thursday news conference.
Forsyth’s scathing report, released Tuesday, detailed how Bolger and Schmidt coordinated Schmidt’s party-switch and recruitment of Mojzak, who was offered $450 by Schmidt’s son to put his name on the ballot. Mojzak withdrew after it was discovered he didn’t live in Schmidt’s district.
The report also noted Bolger’s secretary, Michelle McQuiston, notarized Schmidt’s affidavit and House Republican attorney Joe Baumann gave Bolger election law legal advice to aid Schmidt as the scheme unfolded.
“That’s not what he’s paid to do,” Brewer said of Baumann. “He’s paid to work for the taxpayers.”
Bolger spokesman Ari Adler said the speaker’s staff did all of their work off the clock and denied Brewer’s allegations that taxpayer money was spent to help the GOP add one seat to their 64-46 majority.
“Phil Browne is entitled to days off. If he were doing something that was campaign related, then that time would have been taken off his time card as personal time,” Adler said Thursday. “Joe Baumann gives legal advice to the speaker both as the House general counsel and as a lawyer who volunteers his time to Jase Bolger.”
Johnson, who has made election fraud prevention one of her top priorities, dismissed Brewer’s previous complaint, citing a lack of evidence.
“She’s long talked about her interest in preventing election fraud and this is the perfect opportunity to do so,” Brewer said. “Now she has no choice. The evidence is very clear in this report and we expect her to act on it.”
Forsyth concluded Schmidt may have violated campaign finance laws by attempting to pay Mojzak with donated campaign funds. No money changed hands, though Schmidt accepted Democratic donations at a fundraiser five days before becoming a Republican.
But Forsyth did not find any campaign finance violations on the part of Bolger or his staff.
“There is still no evidence” against Bolger’s staff, Adler said, “because nothing improper was done under the campaign finance law.”
Bolger, R-Marshall, has ignored calls by Brewer and other Democrats to resign his leadership post.
Meanwhile Thursday, state Rep. Tim Bledsoe called for the House Oversight, Reforms and Ethics Committee to probe Schmidt’s “possible misconduct,” which could result in punishment ranging from a censure to expulsion.
“I think that this really is a case of bribery that very narrowly escapes being covered by our bribery statute,” said Bledsoe, D-Grosse Point. “While Rep. Schmidt may have narrowly escaped a criminal felony charge, I certainly think he needs to be held accountable by the Michigan House of Representatives.”
Rep. Tom McMillin, chair of the committee, said no further investigation is needed following the Michigan State Police’s probe.
“It sounds like a ton of resources were already devoted to the investigation,” said McMillin, R-Rochester Hills. “They went all the way down to the text message level for goodness sake.”
Schmidt’s fate will be decided at the ballot box this November, McMillin said.
“The voters will decide whether it rises to the level of importance or if the job that (Republicans have) done to turn the state around is more important,”McMillin said.
Contact Chad Livengood at 517-371-3660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.