CANTON, Mich. (WXYZ) - The Wayne County Executive race for the primary election is heating up, and now we have discovered that a group of Republicans is getting in the mix by funding ads that promote a Democratic candidate.
Once 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo started asking questions, people associated with the ads started scrambling to fix some important paperwork.
The political ads tout the virtues of Westland Mayor Bill Wild, who’s a Democrat running for Wayne County CEO.
Wild is vying for the top spot in the Democratic primary against a crowded field that includes front-runner Warren Evens, incumbent Bob Ficano, and other well-known names.
Now there’s also a new anti-Evans ad that’s hit the airwaves.
Both ads say they’re paid for by “Citizens for Accountable Government.”
There appears to be two groups that have that name.
First, there’s a Political Action Committee (PAC) that’s tied to Macomb County Republican State Senator Tory Rocca. It’s called Citizens for Accountable Government. Rocca’s PAC is registered to a home in Sterling Heights.
Then, there’s a group with the same name, Citizens for Accountable Government, that’s registered as a non-profit. The non-profit’s only listed location is a mailbox inside a UPS Store in Canton. It’s a
501(c)(4) – the same kind of non-profit that got Kwame Kilpatrick in hot water.
The registered agent for that non-profit is former Canton Republican State Representative Deborah Whyman. Also on the board: Macomb County Republican and former State Representative Leon Drolet.
The address at the end of both ads lists the Canton non-profit. But the records filed with the Federal Communications Commission to purchase the ads list Rocca’s PAC address in Sterling Heights.
Michigan Campaign Finance Network Executive Director Rich Robinson says if the non-profit Canton group is actually paying for the ads, 501(c)(4)s can hide their donors from the public.
“Everybody should be concerned about that,” Robinson told 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo.
As soon as the 7 Investigators started asking questions about who’s really funding these ads, the address for the FCC records suddenly got switched to the Canton address.
Whyman has so far refused to return our phone calls, but late on Thursday, she told us in an email, “Citizen’s For Accountable Government is a non-profit corporation established under 501(c)(4) of the IRS Code. We are a non-partisan organization. Our board is comprised of members from ALL major political parties. We are working independently to inform taxpayers about records of important decision makers. We are independent of any campaign. We seek to educate taxpayers from ALL political persuasions.”
Martin Hamburger, President of the Washington, D.C.-based Hamburger Company says he produced the ads for Whyman, and he is now telling 7 Action News that he made the mistake and improperly included Rocca’s name and PAC address on the FCC forms. Hamburger says he couldn’t find Whyman’s address when he submitted the ads, so he googled “Citizens for Accountable Government” and came up with Rocca’s name and address. But the question remains – how could he not know the address was wrong when the address for Whyman’s “Citizens for Accountable Government” is listed in the very ad Hamburger says he produced?
A spokesman for Rocca emphatically denies that the state senator has anything to do with the ads. Sources tell 7 Action News that when Rocca was asked to say he knew nothing about this under oath in a sworn affidavit, he declined to do that.
Lawyers for Warren Evans say they are filing a complaint with the IRS against the non-profit group, alleging that they are improperly engaging in electioneering and advocacy on behalf of a candidate.
The Wild campaign says they’re not associated with this group and they don’t know why they’re running these ads.