University of Michigan Regent Ron Weiser (R) is being accused of making an undisclosed $200,000 payment from the Michigan Republican Party’s administrative account to a former Secretary of State candidate in hopes he would withdraw his candidacy, according to the Detroit News. The allegation comes two days before the election for the Michigan GOP Chair, which Weiser was expected to win.
Laura Cox, current Michigan GOP party chairwoman — who previously announced she would step down from the position — accused him of brokering this “secret deal” in an email to activists Thursday morning, in which she said she was concerned about the payments.
After publicizing her allegations Thursday, Cox asked GOP delegates to re-elect her as temporary chairwoman instead of Weiser. Cox specified if she wins she will immediately resign on April 6, allowing the state committee to elect a new chair.
In a statement released on Twitter early Thursday afternoon, Weiser denied the claims. He also said the allegations were reviewed by former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. and various legal experts who all agreed there were no legal violations.
“Laura Cox’s baseless allegations are a desperate attempt to smear my name, based on a longstanding political grudge, and her inability to hold onto the job of party chair that she could not keep on her own merits,” Weiser wrote. “I’m disappointed by Laura’s shameful attempt to destroy our party with unfounded and reckless conspiracy theories so that she can get back in the chair’s race and save her paycheck.”
The alleged payments were made to Stanley Grot, Shelby Township clerk and former candidate for Michigan secretary of state, who was running for secretary of state in August 2018. Weiser was chairman of the Michigan GOP during this time before stepping down due to a cancer diagnosis.
Cox said the payments — which she knew about in 2019 — are a potential violation of Michigan campaign finance law, according to her Thursday morning email. In her email, Cox included a 14-page internal report written by attorney Jonathan Lauderbach about the payments. When Cox first became aware of the payment she said she “knew instinctively it did not seem kosher,” according to Lauderbach’s report, which has been obtained by The Michigan Daily.
In the report, dated Jan. 15, Lauderbach said he did not reach a definitive conclusion on the legality of the payments and Weiser denied any wrongdoing.
“Our investigation reveals several ‘drops of water.’ It is possible, of course, that the arrangement with Mr. Grow was as … Mr. Weiser insist(s), legitimate,” the report reads. “While we arrive at no definitive conclusion here, we believe the circumstances merit further investigation.”
The accounts from which Weiser allegedly made the payments are kept secret under Michigan state law, as they are not meant to be used for campaign contributions. Both parties have these accounts.
Cox claims Weiser admitted to making the payments to Grot in order to compel him to withdraw from the race for Michigan secretary of state — which he eventually did —and aid his opponent, businesswoman Mary Treder Lang.
Grot told The Detroit News on Thursday the allegations against Weiser were “nonsense” and claimed he was being paid for party business.
Lauderbach’s report also claims Weiser was facilitating similar payments to former President Donald Trump’s Michigan campaign director Scott Hagerstorm, who allegedly told the state party’s chief financial officer Henrietta Tow “he was being paid $80,000 by the state party to do nothing.”
Cox said she regretted “not taking action sooner” after learning of the payments but wanted to respect Weiser’s work for the Michigan GOP and his personal health issues. Cox also said she feels forced to address the spending following a review of election spending from the 2018-2020 cycle.
“I, in good conscience, cannot sit quietly while Weiser refuses to address this enormous issue he created,” Cox wrote. “I am sharing this with you because he cannot and should not be the Republican Party chair.”
Weiser allegedly told Lauderbach the timing of the inquiry — announced by Cox just two days before the election — led him to believe it is politically motivated. According to Cox’s email, Weiser asked Lauderbach if “they’ve known about this for two years, why didn’t they do this before?”
Colleen Pero, former chief of staff for the MI GOP, denied any improper conduct; however, she said she remembered a contract with Grot, but could not remember the exact date it was drafted. Pero also told Lauderbach she doesn’t “think anything untoward was done.”
According to Lauderbach’s report, Weiser may have discussed this investigation with major figures in the Republican party, including former Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus who later became former Trump chief of staff. The report also states Cox said Weiser complained about Cox to current RNC chair Ronna McDaniel.
Recently, Weiser has been scrutinized for not immediately condemning the Capitol violence on Jan. 6, resulting in a widespread petition and faculty open letter calling for his resignation as Regent. Since the attempted insurrection, Weiser has denounced the violence at the Capitol numerous times. The University’s Central Student Government also discussed a resolution calling for Weiser’s resignation on Monday, as some students come to increasingly disdain Weiser’s fortune made through his Ann Arbor real estate company.
When asked about whether former President Donald Trump incited the violence at the Capitol in a Jan. 7 interview with Bridge Michigan, Weiser said he did not know if Trump should be blamed.
“I didn’t read any of that stuff, and I didn't watch television,” Weiser said. “I watched Michigan destroy Minnesota in basketball, and that kind of contest is something that I strongly support.”
Weiser later tweeted about the riot, saying it was “both incredibly tragic and wrong,” as well as that the resulting destruction was “unacceptable and abhorrent.”
The announcement from Cox also comes as Weiser is facing criticism for emails sent to the U-M Board of Regents and U-M President Mark Schlissel. In these messages, Weiser called on fellow regents to release statements in support of him, asking the board to remember “Germany in the 1930’s”. In other emails, he called graduate student protesters “hired union hacks” and sent one containing only a picture of a bikini-clad woman.
Regents are elected in a statewide election every eight years. Weiser will be up for reelection in 2025.
The University’s Office of Public Affairs declined to comment, citing a lack of connection to the University. Cox could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.
This article has been updated to include additional information from Jonathan Lauderbach’s report.
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