More controversy for Brian Calley's 'Clean Michigan' campaign

LANSING, MICH. - A firm hired to collect signatures for the "Clean Michigan" petition drive promoted by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley had a company officer convicted of election fraud in 2011, records show.

It's the latest controversy for the proposal to amend Michigan's constitution to make the Legislature part-time — an initiative widely viewed as the launching pad for Calley's expected Republican campaign for governor.

Thousands of signatures collected for the "Clean MI" initiative already were voided after Calley and other leaders of the drive decided to change the wording of the petition after already collecting signatures.

The petition drive has also had a series of hiccups getting its language approved by the Board of State Canvassers. Calley faced criticism after he asked the board to withdraw the group's request for board consideration of the wording on June 21, citing an alleged conflict of interest by Republican Norm Shinkle, one of the four board members.

In the latest development, first reported Wednesday by Michigan Information & Research Service, Inc., a Lansing political newsletter, an officer of Signature Masters, Inc., a company hired to collect signatures for the initiative, was convicted of election fraud in Virginia in 2011.

Shawn Wilmoth, a 30-year-old Michigan resident who has listed his occupation as chief relations officer of Signature Masters, pleaded guilty in September 2011 to two felony counts of election fraud and was sentenced to two concurrent five-year sentences, with four years and eight months of the sentence suspended on the condition of good behavior and repayment of court and extradition costs, according to a 2011 report in the online publication Arlington Now. Wilmoth also was placed on probation for three years.

Matthew Dobler, a spokesman for Clean MI, said today there are too many people collecting signatures for the campaign to conduct background checks on all of them.

It was not clear this morning what, if any, connection Wilmoth still has to Signature Masters. Wilmoth's Facebook Page still lists him as the company's chief relations officer. His LinkedIn profile says he left that post in February 2016 and is now a partner in SMI Technologies LLC, a company offering warranties on electronic products. But a court filing in an unrelated Connecticut civil case said Wilmoth held the post of chief relations officer at Signature Masters more recently than that — in April 2016.

SMI Technologies has the same initials as Signature Masters Inc. and Signature Masters has been frequently referenced in court filings as SMI.

Clean Michigan paid Signature Masters $2,625 on July 10, according to a campaign finance report filed with the Secretary of State's Office.

"We have literally 4,000 people collecting signatures around Michigan; we haven't run background checks on all 4,000 people, but we do very strictly analyze petitions as they are returned to us before submission to the Secretary of State," Dobler said in an e-mail.

"While we were unaware of this issue at the time that the $2,625 payment was issued, it does only represent less than one half of one percent of our budget on this project. Currently, we are in the process of hiring a national signature collection firm to manage paid collection effort."

Several firms were hired to collect signatures, not just Signature Masters, said committee spokesman Michael Stroud.

According to Arlington Now, Wilmoth admitted to hiring two ex-cons, who were ineligible to collect petition signatures under Virginia law, and asked them to both collect signatures and to sign as a witnesses on dozens of petition sheets filled with signatures they did not collect.

The petition drive, Committee for a Better Arlington, was a government reform effort backed by police and firefighters.

Wilmoth could not be reached for comment, but he said in a sworn affidavit in the Connecticut civil case that the allegations were false and he agreed to a plea deal in the Virginia case "only to regain my freedom" after he was arrested in Michigan, extradited to Virginia, and held in custody when he was unable to pay the $100,000 bond.

Wilmoth, who described himself in the affidavit as a long-time Democrat and dues-paying member of the Michigan Democratic Party, said "the false allegation in Virginia remains the only allegation ever lodged against me in the over 87 petition drives in 27 states that I have been hired to spearhead since 2005."

Calls to Signature Masters this morning were not returned. Calley spokeswoman Laura Biehl declined comment, saying she can only speak for Calley in his official capacity as lieutenant-governor.

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Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4.

© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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