Pam Byrnes goes on attack against Rebekah Warren for campaign finance violation in Senate race
(This story has been updated to note that Marc Corriveau dropped out of his district's Senate race and to correct information about a donation to the Washtenaw Democrats.)
State Rep. Rebekah Warren says technical difficulties prevented her from filing her campaign finance reports on time last week. But her opponent, state Rep. Pam Byrnes, is going on the offensive, calling it a clear violation of state law.
After failing to meet a Friday deadline, Warren posted her campaign finance reports to the state's website on Monday. Because she was one business day late, she will be charged a $25 fine.
"Sadly, Ms. Warren has a history of this as the treasurer of MARAL," said Byrnes' campaign manager, Kent Sparks, citing records that show Warren was late in submitting other campaign finance reports in 2006 and 2007 as treasurer for the Michigan Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League PAC.
Byrnes' campaign also claims Warren worked around campaign finance laws to channel an extra $5,000 above and beyond the amount permitted by state law from her Envision Michigan PAC to her Senate campaign.
Records show Warren gave her campaign a boost in December by transferring $10,000 from her Envision Michigan PAC, the most allowed under state law. Five days later, the PAC made a $5,000 contribution to state Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville, who gave $5,000 to Warren's campaign the same day.
While technically legal, Byrnes' campaign argues Warren's actions violate the spirit of the state's campaign finance laws.
"It seems to me if you can't follow the law, you shouldn't be writing it," Sparks said.
Warren defended herself by saying she and Corriveau are friends and support each other's campaigns. Just like one person might go to a friend's birthday party and bring a gift, she said, that friend might do the same in return on the other person's birthday.
"It's just very common that people support the people they'd like to serve with," Warren said. "We're both friends and colleagues in the House and were both looking forward to serving together in the Senate."
Corriveau dropped out of his district's Senate race in May.
Warren said it's unfortunate her opponent is going on the attack over a few late campaign finance filings in more than a decade.
"Sometimes despite your best efforts, you can miss a deadline," she said. "This is what turns people off about politics. Rome is burning and this is what we're talking about in a race like this?"
Warren, who uses online software to file her reports, said she discovered inconsistencies with the way some data was electronically entered in her reports on Friday and decided to wait an extra business day to file to ensure the reports would be completely accurate.
State records show Byrnes herself was late in filing a campaign finance report in 2008. She also has failed to include the required "paid for by" disclosure on two large campaign billboards she currently has up in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
"It's on the campaign finance report showing that we did pay for it," Sparks said Tuesday. "We're in the process now of getting a disclaimer added."
Warren and Byrnes, who currently serve as state representatives for different parts of Washtenaw County, will face off for the 18th District state Senate seat in next Tuesday's Democratic primary, alongside Thomas Partridge.
The race turned ugly Tuesday when questions arose over a conservative-learning group's backing of Byrnes' campaign in a series of ads. The group attacked Warren for missing votes while on her honeymoon, but Byrnes' campaign denied any connection to the ads or the group behind them.
Campaign finance reports show that in addition to the $140,968 she raised, Byrnes reported another $1,376 in in-kind contributions, while Warren reported $3,843.
Byrnes transferred $35,547 of her fundraising total from her state representative campaign fund.
Warren transferred $10,000 from her state representative campaign fund. Her latest report also shows a debt of $10,000, which she owes for taking out four separate $2,500 loans over the last four months. Byrnes did not report any debt.
Some of Warren's largest expenses include more than $8,000 paid in salary to her campaign manager, Sarah Curmi, $5,700 for development of a website by Inner Circle Media LLC of Ann Arbor, $4,000 to Capitol Fundraising Associates of Lansing for consulting services, and $1,640 to Campaign Finance Services of Charlotte for campaign finance compliance services.
Warren also used campaign money to make a $250 donation to the University of Michigan College Democrats and a $1,455 donation to the Washtenaw County Democratic Party.
Byrnes paid more than $12,600 in salary to her campaign manager and more than $41,700 in political consulting fees to GMT Strategies Inc. of Lansing. She also paid $15,000 to West Liberty Information LLC of Ann Arbor for data management services and $1,120 to Thomas Knox of Chelsea for web consulting fees.
Byrnes also spent nearly $23,000 on surveys done by Lake Research Partners of Washington, D.C., between February and April. Byrnes went public in April with partial results from one survey declaring she had a 13-point lead over Warren. Her campaign declined to release the full survey results, saying findings used for internal strategy were not being disclosed.
Both campaigns accepted money from special-interest PACs, but Byrnes outpaced Warren. Warren reported taking $9,900 from the Michigan Education Association, $3,500 from the Auto Dealers of Michigan, $1,000 from the Michigan Psychological Association, $1,500 from DTE Energy and $1,000 from the Michigan Association of Community Bankers.
Warren also accepted $500 from Blue Cross Blue Shield, $500 from the Michigan Association of Theatre Owners, $250 from the University of Michigan PAC and $250 from the Michigan Association of Health Plans.
Byrnes took $6,000 from the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, $5,400 from the Operating Engineers Local 324, $3,000 from Blue Cross Blue Shield, $3,000 from the Michigan Association of Nurse Anesthetists, $2,250 from the School Administrators PAC, $2,750 from DTE Energy, $2,700 from the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association, $2,500 from the Dillon Leadership Fund, $2,200 from the Auto Dealers of Michigan, and $2,150 from the Michigan Association of Realtors.
Byrnes also accepted $1,750 from AT&T, $1,600 from the County Road Association of Michigan, $1,500 from the Michigan Association of Health Plans, $1,500 from the American Consulting Engineers Council, $1,500 from the United Transportation Union, $1,450 from the Norfolk Southern Corp., $1,450 from the Michigan Credit Union League, and $1,000 each from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 190, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Michigan Democrats for Education Reform, Michigan Aggregates and Ford Motor Co.
“I’m humbled and honored to have such a broad base of support throughout our community,” Byrnes said in a statement. “While this financial support is encouraging, I remain focused on what this campaign is all about: creating jobs for our community and delivering the reforms necessary to turn our state’s economy around.”
Under separate reports, Byrnes and Warren each reported late contributions of $2,000 from the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association. That came in addition to $2,000 and $1,750, respectively, Warren and Byrnes already received from the group.
"From the very beginning of this campaign, what's been so terrific to me is really it's a lot of community support," Warren said. "I did not spend a lot of time in Lansing fundraising. You don't see a lot of PAC support. What's so gratifying to me is that, even in these tough economic times, such a large number of individuals put their support behind the campaign."