Lansing – House Speaker Jase Bolger does not plan to create a formal defense fund to pay for his legal representation in an election rigging investigation — and that’s prompting another legal complaint against the Marshall Republican, The Detroit News has learned.
A 2008 law requires elected officials facing criminal or civil action arising from their governmental duties to report all contributions and expenses made for their legal defense, including personal expenses they make on attorney fees.
But Bolger isn’t going that route because his involvement in advising state Rep. Roy Schmidt to recruit a stand-in Democratic opponent before switching parties was a political maneuver, not part of his official capacity as a state representative or Speaker of the House, a spokesman said.
After being cleared by the Kent County prosecutor of any wrong doing in the scheme, Bolger and Schmidt are now the subject of a judicial grand jury investigation, prompting questions about who’s paying their legal bills.
“Jase Bolger is working on a plan to help cover his personal legal costs brought about by the political witch hunt being promoted by the Michigan Democrats,” said Ari Adler, spokesman for Bolger, R-Marshall. “Neither House Republican Caucus money nor taxpayer money will be used to pay for legal representation.”
Michigan Democratic Party chairman Mark Brewer said he filed a complaint Monday against Bolger with the Secretary of State’s office, alleging Bolger is skirting the Legal Defense Fund Act of 2008 by not creating a committee regulated by elections officials.
“The public is entitled to know who’s paying his legal bills,” Brewer told The Detroit News. “And there’s been no disclosure since May who is paying his legal bills.”
Brewer said he’s asking Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to force Bolger to form a legal defense fund, file an overdue second quarter spending and fundraising report and fine him as the law allows.
Bolger, R-Marshall, could have accepted donations for a legal defense fund above the normal $500 limit for individuals and $5,000 from political action committees and party committees that candidates can accept for state House campaigns.
“A formal Legal Defense Fund would have benefited the Speaker, so not using it is a disadvantage, but as he has done all along, Speaker Bolger insisted that all laws and rules be followed,” Adler said in an email to The News. “It would have been inappropriate to set up a Legal Defense Fund under the statute you cited.”
In condemning their actions, Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth concluded in July that Bolger and Schmidt didn’t commit any crime while conspiring through text messages to line up a fake opponent for Schmidt to easily defeat in a Grand Rapids legislative district.
A Michigan State Police investigation revealed Schmidt enticed a 22-year-old family friend, Matthew Mojzak, with promises of a $450 pay day to file as his opponent moments before the May 15 deadline, denying Democrats an opportunity to recruit a legitimate candidate. Mojzak dropped out of the race a few days later after reporters discovered he didn’t reside in the 76th District, prompting a state police probe into potential candidate fraud.
But holes in the investigation prompted Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer and Brewer to petition the Ingham County Circuit Court to launch a one-person grand jury investigation in the matter. The judges agreed and Judge Rosemarie Aquilina was drawn at random to run the grand jury investigation, which is conducted in secret under state law.
Schmidt, R-Grand Rapids, did not return messages Monday seeking comment. A spokesman has previously confirmed Schmidt’s attorney dealt with Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth during the original investigation. Neither Bolger nor Schmidt were interviewed by state police this summer.
Adler would not confirm or deny whether Bolger used an attorney during Forsyth’s investigation.
“Anything handled throughout the investigation during the summer is now possibly being reviewed as part of the grand jury proceedings,” Adler said in an email. “Because of this, we cannot offer any comment”
Asked whether he would file a complaint against Schmidt for not setting up a legal defense fund, Brewer replied: “One at a time.”