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Since telling Bridge Michigan he didn’t know if he blamed former President Donald Trump for inciting the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol last month and that he watched the Michigan basketball game instead of the coverage of the riot, University of Michigan Regent Ronald Weiser (R) has been subject to a generous amount of criticism from U-M students and faculty.

Community members have called for his resignation in a petition that has garnered over 4,900 signatures since Jan. 8. Hundreds of faculty, staff and students also signed onto an open letter to Weiser and members of the University’s administration demanding he resign. In addition, the University’s Central Student Government has discussed a potential resolution calling for his resignation.

Soon after, emails Weiser sent to fellow regents and University President Mark Schlissel requesting their support amid the backlash came to light, one of which called on regents to “remember Germany in the 1930’s.” Older emails in which he called Graduate Employees’ Organization members on strike “union hacks” and sent only an image of a woman in a bikini also surfaced.

Various other claims about Weiser’s relationship to the Michigan Republican Party, his real estate holdings in Ann Arbor and his donations to the University have also been circulating. Some of these claims are verifiable while others are not. The Michigan Daily put together a guide to what we know to be fact, what we know to be false and what cannot be verified.

Did Weiser refuse to condemn the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021?

After initially failing to condemn the insurrection in a Jan. 7 interview with Bridge Michigan, Weiser tweeted a statement, writing that he strongly condemned “those people who turned into a mob and breached the capitol after what was supposed to be a peaceful protest.”

https://twitter.com/RonaldWeiser/status/1347328166663237632?s=20

Weiser has since told The Detroit News he was undergoing dental surgery at the time of the riots to explain why he missed initial coverage. Weiser continued to condemn the riots in the weeks following.

In a Feb. 8 email to The Daily, Weiser wrote that he has “clearly condemned the violence and the people who perpetrated it.”

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald also referred The Daily to a statement on the insurrection from the Office of the President, writing that all of the regents, including Weiser, support Schlissel’s condemnation of the pro-Trump rioters. 

“Today’s violence represents an assault on our liberty and the fundamental values of American democracy,” the statement reads. “We condemn all those who participate in or instigate such an attack on our nation.”

Did Weiser refuse to condemn former President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 violence? 

In the same Jan. 7 interview with Bridge, Weiser answered “I don’t know,” when asked whether Trump was responsible for inciting the violence. Since then, he has yet to name Trump — or any other individuals — as responsible for the insurrection. Trump’s second impeachment trial is set to begin Tuesday, where he faces charges of inciting violence at the Capitol.

In his statement on Twitter following the publication of the Bridge article, Weiser referenced yet did not condemn Trump, writing “the President said this morning that a peaceful of power will occur and therefore the 2020 elections are over.”

Weiser made similar remarks in a Jan. 9 Twitter thread, stating “People were misled. And that resulted in death and destruction” without naming any party responsible for the misinformation.

In a Jan. 19 interview with The Daily, when asked whether Trump was among those responsible for inciting the violence, Schlissel also did not directly say if he thought Trump held responsibility. 

“I chose my words very carefully on purpose,” Schlissel said. “(It’s) up to all of us to interpret what’s been going on publicly and figure out those who are responsible for inciting violence.” 

Does Weiser have ties to the pro-Trump rioters?

Weiser is the incoming chairman of the Michigan GOP, which he will co-chair with Meshawn Maddock, a 2020 state presidential elector who worked to overturn Michigan’s 2020 general election results. Maddock organized buses to transport Michigan Trump supporters to Washington, D.C. the day of the insurrection and at one point marched among them, according to a tweet from her account that afternoon. She has since publicly condemned the violence and claimed the rally was supposed to be peaceful. 

In the early afternoon of Jan. 6 before Trump supporters breached the U.S. Capitol building, Maddock tweeted that the rally marching toward the Capitol was the “most incredible crowd and sea of people I’ve ever walked with (heart emoji).” 

Weiser told Bridge that he does not believe Maddock “incited” the violence and said she watched the chaos of the riot from her hotel window.

“I don’t believe she was part of it,” Weiser said. “I don’t believe she incited it.”

What is Weiser’s relationship to the Michigan GOP?

On Feb. 6, Weiser was officially elected chairman of the Michigan GOP, following last-minute allegations from the outgoing Chairwoman Laura Cox that he made undisclosed payments to urge a Secretary of State candidate to withdraw, possibly violating campaign finance law. On Monday, Michigan’s Bureau of Elections launched an investigation into these allegations.

Weiser is now the highest-ranking member in the state party. He was previously elected to this position in 2009 and 2017, stepping down in 2019 due to health issues. 

When asked about the potential conflict of interest in holding this position while also serving as a regent, Fitzgerald wrote holding both positions is not uncommon for governing boards at universities around the state, especially given the partisan statewide electoral processes by which regents are selected at the University and other state institutions. 

“Involvement with one political party or another is typically expected of candidates for the governing boards at U-M, MSU and Wayne State, where board members are nominated by the political parties and elected on a statewide ballot,” Fitzgerald wrote.

Weiser also denied there is a conflict of interest between his position as a regent in his Feb. 8 email to The Daily.

“The board of regents is not involved in politics,” Weiser wrote. “It is involved in the oversight of the university.”

Currently, no fellow regent holds a position of equal rank in their respective state political party, but other regents have held similar positions. For instance, before being elected to the Board of Regents in 2018, Jordan Acker served as deputy communications director for the Michigan Democratic Party. He was also appointed by President Barack Obama as an attorney-adviser to Secretary Janet Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security in 2011.

How else has Weiser been involved in Republican politics?

In addition to his history with the Michigan GOP, Weiser has also held positions with the national Republican Party.

From 2011 to 2013, he served as the Republican National Committee’s national finance chairman. He was also one of the vice chairs on Trump’s finance committee, where he was tapped to raise money for Trump’s election in 2016.

Outside of these roles, Weiser has also been involved in the campaigns of other prominent Republican officeholders, including the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and former President George W. Bush.

Weiser also worked with Betsy and Dick DeVos — former Trump education secretary, and Michigan businessman and gubernatorial candidate, respectively — to pass Right-to-Work legislation for the state of Michigan in 2013, which creates provisions for workers to hold a job without paying labor union dues. 

Is Weiser a major landlord in Ann Arbor?

Weiser is the founder of McKinley Associates Inc., a national real estate company headquartered in Ann Arbor, from which he got most of his wealth. The company owns and/or manages several apartment complexes in Ann Arbor, as well as properties around the country valued in excess of $4.6 billion, according to the company’s website.

Fitzgerald asserted that Weiser is no longer active in the company. Weiser confirmed this in an email to The Daily, stating he retired from the company in 2001 as part of the requirements when he was nominated by the Bush administration to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia.

Does Weiser’s real estate company profit from University of Michigan students living on or near campus?

According to Weiser, McKinley’s apartments in Ann Arbor are not within walking distance from Central Campus and are primarily marketed as “workforce housing,” which the company independently confirmed in an email to The Daily.

Fitzgerald wrote that it is the University’s understanding that McKinley “does not have significant holdings near the U-M campus.” 

In the Monday email to The Daily, Weiser wrote that McKinley has “no undergraduate student housing.”

But the company indicated that they do lease their properties to students attending the University but also to students from neighboring colleges, including Concordia, Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College. This is in contrast to other Ann Arbor-based companies like J. Keller Properties and Campus Realty, which market themselves as U-M student housing.

Is Weiser a major donor to the University, in addition to being a regent?

Weiser and his wife have donated over $100 million to the University, making him a prominent donor.

In recent years, the couple has donated millions toward establishing the Weiser Diplomacy Center at the Ford School of Public Policy, which is now named after the pair, as well as a real estate center at the Ross School of Business. Campus buildings such as Weiser Hall take their name from the Weiser family.

Did Weiser make a donation to influence the University’s plans for the fall semester? 

Weiser donated $30 million to the University a week before the announcement of the University’s controversial plans to have an in-person, “public-health informed” semester, as an anonymous University staff member said in an Aug. 27 op-ed. However, these funds were specifically designated for diabetes research, according to MLive. The Elizabeth Weiser Caswell Diabetes Institute, funded by the gift, was named after Weiser’s daughter, whose husband and children suffer from Type 1 diabetes.

Over the summer, Weiser stated that many of his donations to the University are designated for specific purposes, such as food allergy research.

When asked if his personal donations to the University influence the Board of Regents’ decisions for the University community, Weiser denied the allegation.

“My personal donations do not influence the regents’ priorities and decisions for the university community,” Weiser wrote. “I love the university. Over the years, I have contributed or committed more than $100 million to the university, everything from student scholarships to centers for medical research.”

Daily Staff Reporter Julianna Morano can be reached at jucomora@umich.edu.

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