LANSING, MICH. - With the election more than 15 months away, five declared or prospective candidates for governor have already raised more than $1 million each for what promises to be an expensive and hard-fought campaign, reports filed Tuesday show.
Three Democrats — self-funded Ann Arbor businessman Shri Thanedar, East Lansing attorney Gretchen Whitmer and former Detroit health department director Dr. Abdul El-Sayed — reported eclipsing the $1 million mark in their campaign fund-raising.
So did two Republicans: Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. Both are seen as likely candidates for governor who have yet to announce their candidacies.
The potential war chests amassed by Schuette and Calley far exceed those of declared Republican candidates, such as Saginaw physician Dr. Jim Hines and Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, records filed with the Michigan Secretary of State's Office show.
The biggest surprise Tuesday may have been the campaign finance report filed by Thanedar, whose cash balance is tops in both parties after he reported putting $3.3 million of his own money into his effort.
Whitmer, the best-known of the Democratic candidates and considered the party's front-runner, reported raising $1.5 million in donations and having $1.1 million in cash available for the upcoming campaign. She reported transferring $51,000 from her leadership fund to the campaign, donating another $10,448 to herself and receiving $66,000 from Emily's List, a Washington, D.C.-based organization working to elect Democratic women to state and federal offices.
Thanedar, an entrepreneur with a doctorate in chemistry who grew up in India before attending U-M, sold 60% of his chemical testing company, Avomeen Analytical Services, in 2015 to focus on public service, according to his campaign website and interviews.
The loans to his campaign, along with expenditures of about $82,000, leave Thanedar with close to $3.2 million in his campaign fund, according to the report.
The significant cash infusion from the relatively unknown businessman prompted comparisons to 2010, when Republican Rick Snyder, who was also from Ann Arbor and had little name recognition and no political experience, used about $6 million from his personal fortune to fund his successful bid for the governor's office.
"There are similarities," said Ed Sarpolus, founder and executive director of the Lansing polling and consulting firm Target Insyght.
But Thanedar has a bigger hill to climb because he is even more unknown than was Snyder, who had more political connections, and Whitmer has already locked up most of the union support, Sarpolus said. Also, Thanedar doesn't have strong ties to Detroit, where much of the Democratic vote is located, he said.
"The question is, will he spend what he put in?" Sarpolus asked. "He's showing serious effort."
Thanedar told the Free Press he plans to start spending the money immediately to raise his profile and campaign around the state and he plans to collect donations and put in more of his own money if necessary.
El-Sayed reported he has raised more than $1 million for his bid to become Michigan's next governor, according to a report filed Monday afternoon.
El-Sayed reported receiving more than 3,600 individual donations and his campaign said he took no money from corporate political action committees. A total of 26 donors gave the maximum contribution of $6,800.
"This is proof that a politics of people works — and that Michiganders are looking for candidates who are not bought and sold by corporations," El-Sayed said in a news release.
El-Sayed reported raising just over $1 million and spending just over $373,000, leaving him with about $644,000 in the bank.
Schuette has close to $1.6 million in the bank he could use for his campaign, according to a report filed Tuesday.
Schuette reported raising just over $900,000 so far this year, bringing his total fund-raising for the election cycle to just under $2 million, and leaving him with close to $1.6 million in cash on hand.
Schuette is term-limited as attorney general at the end of 2018, so he isn't raising money for another run for that office. He recently changed the name of his AG campaign committee to "Bill Schuette for Michigan."
The biggest donations Schuette reported for the current period were $8,750 from the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers political action committee, which has given just under $34,000 to Schuette this election cycle, and $7,500 from the DTE Energy Co. PAC, which has given Schuette a total of $31,000 this cycle.
Calley, in a report filed after 6 p.m. Tuesday, reported raising $478,000 in the latest fund-raising period for $1.2 million total for the election cycle, leaving him with about $1 million in the bank.
Calley's biggest donations for the period were $10,000 from the Michigan Chamber PAC, which has given $25,150 to his fund this cycle, and $8,350 from the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers PAC, which has given Calley $38,350 this cycle.
Hines, a declared GOP candidate for governor, reported raising $234,000 for the January report, bringing his total fund-raising for the election cycle to $429,000.
But Hines, who was the first gubernatorial candidate to file his nominating petitions with the Secretary of State, spent close to $125,000 collecting those signatures and now has only about $6,000 in cash on hand, according to the report.
Hines has put close to $389,000 of his own money into his campaign, records show.
Colbeck, who officially announced his candidacy on Saturday, reported raising a little over $61,000 and having about $23,000 in cash in the bank.
Rounding out the Democratic candidates who filed reports Tuesday was William Cobbs, a U.S. Navy veteran and retired Xerox executive who lives in Farmington Hills. He reported raising just under $40,000, most of which came from his own funds. Cobb reported spending more than $37,000, leaving him with close to $2,000 in the bank.
Also, Southfield attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who has said he is considering joining the Democratic race for governor, reported making a token $5 donation to his gubernatorial campaign on June 21. Fieger has never closed the campaign committee he used when he was the Democratic candidate for governor in 1998.
The other declared Democratic candidates for governor — Justin Giroux of Wayland, Kentiel White of Southgate and Clyde Darnell Lynch of Detroit — had not filed a July report that was posted on the state website by 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Republicans Joseph Derose of Williamston, Evan Space of Lansing and Mark McFarlin of Pinconning had also not filed reports.
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Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4.
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