Michigan Democrats Demand Investigation of Land Finances

“What kind of person forgets they have $2.9 million?” Lon Johnson, the chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, wondered aloud to reporters as he announced two election complaints were being filed against the Republicans' candidate for Senate, Terri Lynn Land.

Michigan Democrats filed the complaints July 24, calling for federal and state audits of the former Michigan secretary of State’s finances.

“Since Terri Lynn Land refuses to answer questions about her controversial and potentially illegal Land & Co. finances, the only way for Michiganders to know the truth is through investigations by the State of Michigan and Federal Election Commission,” said Johnson.

Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, put a rhetorical nail in the Land campaign’s coffin a couple of hours before Democrats announced their demand for investigations.

Sabato wrote that earlier this year, it looked like Land stood a good chance of winning the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Carl Levin. Land was either tied with Rep. Gary Peters (D) or was leading.

But that has changed in the last two months, with Democrats raising questions about Land’s self-funding of her campaign and leaving her tied in verbal knots as she tried to explain whether she did or did not work in the family business.

The latest poll, from EPIC-MRA, released July 15, has Peters ahead by 9 points, and he is trouncing Land when it comes to female voters.

“Michigan is just a fool’s gold state for Republicans,” wrote Sabato. “Federal races there often appear highly competitive, but Democrats typically settle in to win handily.”

Democrats want the state of Michigan to investigate 15 donations Land made as owner of Land & Co. to her secretary of state campaign.

At the time, Land’s husband, Daniel Hibma, was treasurer of her secretary of state campaign and owner of Land & Co.

Land has said that she had no ties to the company. Johnson said that means “either she lied to the people of Michigan about her business experience or lied to the state of Michigan about her ownership of Land & Company.”

Michigan Democrats also want the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether Land broke the law by self-funding $2.9 million to her campaign without having $2.9 million in her own assets.

Land has said she would file an amended report covering the $2.9 million that she “inadvertently” left off the report.

So far that report has not been filed, and Heather Swift, the spokeswoman for the Land campaign, did not immediately respond to a PJ Media request for a response to the Michigan Democrats’ charges.

Independent experts have told The Detroit News and The Detroit Free Press that Land may have violated both state and federal election law.

Rich Robinson, the executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, told The Detroit News he questioned how Land could deny ever working for Land & Co. and blame donations when she’s listed as an employee of Land & Co. Per Robinson, "I would be very surprised if any campaign record keeper would list an occupation that wasn't provided by the donor.”

Frank Beckmann, from Detroit radio station 760 WJR, said that he couldn't believe Land is denying her business experience at Land and Company.

“I have no idea why Terri Lynn Land doesn’t say, ‘I was an executive in my family’s company.’ I don’t get it. I don't understand why. I think she should. It makes no sense. I don’t understand her whole campaign, quite frankly.”

Land could face a civil fine of up to $1,000 if she did lie about her employment at Land & Company and could be forced to reimburse the secretary of state for all expenses from the audit.

The Detroit Free Press first reported that Land doesn't have enough assets that would give her the ability to self-fund $2.9 million legally.

Johnson said Land could have used her husband's Land & Company money, but that would break the law because her husband could only donate a total of $5,200.

Paul Ryan, senior counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, told the Free Press, "If a noncandidate spouse gives money to a candidate spouse to influence that candidate’s election, it’s subject to contribution limit.”

“This raises a red flag for me,” said Ryan. “A candidate suddenly coming into possession of several million dollars raises questions for me.”

If Land violated campaign finance law, she could face a civil penalty of as much as $5.8 million, which is twice the amount of the excessive contribution of $2.9 million minus the $5,200 legally permissible contribution.

"As a former top elections official, Ms. Land should know better, but as a candidate to replace Carl Levin, she should be following the basic letter of the law that's required,” said Johnson.

“Sadly, Ms. Land doesn't think the rules apply to her so we are left with no choice than to pursue a full accounting and investigation of her finances at the state and federal level.”

At the end of what will be the most important day of Land’s political career, the first Tuesday in November 2014, Sabato doesn’t think the Michigan Democrats have much to worry about.

“Despite the national climate, nothing we’ve seen here suggests that Land is the candidate to break the pattern of recent history,” he wrote. “Rep. Gary Peters, the presumptive Democratic nominee, appears fairly well positioned about a month before Labor Day."