Four former employees of the Michigan Republican Party, including one University student, were threatened with arrest Monday after allegedly attempting to steal 300,000 pieces of campaign literature from the Michigan GOP’s Oakland County headquarters in Farmington Hills.
More than 30 Michigan GOP staffers were laid off Friday after John McCain’s presidential campaign pulled its resources out of the state.
LSA senior Justin Zatkoff, the chairman of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans, and Scott Greenlee, the state’s campaign director, were among employees laid off.
Zatkoff and Greenlee said they were offered paid positions in other states but decided to stay in Michigan as unpaid volunteers.
“I’d rather not take a paycheck and stay here in Michigan to help build the grassroots here,” said Zatkoff, who is taking a semester off to work for the GOP.
Zatkoff said he decided the best way to support that cause was to help distribute boxes of McCain campaign literature to grassroots leaders throughout the state.
Michigan Republican Party spokesman Bill Nowling said Greenlee did not contact them about moving the material, and since they were no longer employees, they were not authorized to distribute it.
“What we told them when we called was they are no longer employees of the Michigan Republican Party,” Nowling said. “What they were moving was Michigan Republican Party property.”
Greenlee said one of the biggest complaints he hears from county headquarters around the state is not having enough literature.
Knowing there were 300,000 pieces of campaign literature at the Farmington Hills office, which Zatkoff said were “collecting dust,” the employees tried to make use of those materials, he said.
Greenlee said he contacted the McCain Regional Campaign Manager, Jennifer Hallowell, to ask if he could distribute the material to Victory Centers — McCain campaign offices — around the state.
Hallowell responded by giving Greenlee permission to distribute the material, he said.
Greenlee said that after he got approval from the McCain campaign, he rented trucks and drove with Zatkoff and two other volunteers to county headquarters, hoping to pick up the boxes of literature and distribute them by end of this past Tuesday.
Greenlee said that when he and the other volunteers were more than halfway done loading the boxes, he received a call from the Michigan Republican Party executive director, Jeff Timmer, informing him that the Michigan GOP did not authorize picking up the campaign materials.
“(Timmer) then noted that it did not matter what the McCain campaign said, as these were property of the Michigan GOP and they would distribute them when they were ready,” Greenlee said. “He said if I took even one brochure he would call the police, have me arrested, and that I would be prosecuted.”
Nowling said the state GOP had plans to distribute the leftover literature in the final 72-hour push before Election Day.
After the incident, Dan Tollis, a GOP candidate for state House, forwarded a message from Zatkoff to the state GOP and numerous media outlets to draw attention to the matter.
In response, Larry Ward, the political director of the state’s Republican Party, sent a message to the group, calling Zatkoff a “disgruntled former employee.” He then said “several individuals — including some disgruntled former employees — who have tried to take advantage of the situation by stealing cell phones and other electronic equipment.”
Greenlee said he didn’t know why the Michigan Republican Party responded the way it did, calling it was “one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in politics.”
Zatkoff, a former member of the University’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter, was the focus of an April story by The Michigan Review that alleged, among other accusations, that Zatkoff had violated state campaign finance laws. The story also claimed that udner Zatkoff’s leadership, the Michigan Federation of College Republicans had “effectively crumbled.”
Correction Appended: A previous edition of this story said Justin Zatkoff sent an e-mail message to the state GOP and numerous media outlets. Zatkoff wrote to Dan Tollis who then forwarded the message to those groups.