Campaign finance complaint filed against anti-marijuana group in Clinton Township

War of words engulf upcoming ballot proposal

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published February 26, 2020

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — At press time, the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office was reviewing multiple alleged campaign violations filed by the head of a pro-marijuana advocacy group, in relation to the upcoming March 10 ballot proposal.

On Feb. 18, Secretary of State Communications Manager Michael Doyle confirmed that the Bureau of Elections received the complaint. From that day the bureau had five business days to review and determine whether the complaint warrants an investigation. No decision had been announced as the Fraser-Clinton Chronicle went to press late last week.

The complaint was filed by Clinton Township Yes, a pro-marijuana campaign managed by Steve Linder. The Michigan Campaign Finance Act requires that “a billboard, placard, poster, pamphlet, or other printed matter…shall bear upon it an identification that contains the name and address of the person paying for the matter.”

The complaint included four alleged violations:

1. On Jan. 14, Clinton Township First member Michael Agrusso sent an email aimed to “solicit contributions” due to a proposal he stated: “deliberately aimed at deceiving residents with worfing [sic] that has been disallowed on the March ballot.” It contained no disclaimer as to who paid for the message.

2. A circulated flyer representing Clinton Township First, asking people to share information and “join the fight,” neglected to include a disclaimer of identification for payment.

3. It is alleged that the group’s website, first published on Dec. 25, tells residents to “say ‘no’ to large-scale marijuana.” It is alleged that up until at least Jan. 16, the website did not include a disclaimer as to who was funding the website. The group’s annual campaign finance report did not include any mentions of expenditures or in-kind contributions for the website.

4. The group has purchased signs for residents to place on their properties, with slogans like “Big marijuana, big lies.” The signs allegedly include no disclaimer, with words on the signs mimicking slogans that are prevalent on the group’s website.

Linder criticized the anti-marijuana group, Clinton Township First, for how it has operated its campaign. He said they originally “tried to bully” Clinton Township Clerk Kim Meltzer in terms of certifying nearly 4,000 ballot-supporting signatures.

Following a judge’s ruling in Macomb County Circuit Court pertaining to a lawsuit to keep the proposal off the March 10 ballot, Linder said the group then attempted to “bully” the Macomb County Election Commission, in terms of validating the petition and placing it on the ballot.

Linder said the group “lost at every turn,” noting that Anthony Penna, the attorney representing Clinton Township First, filed an appeal Jan. 27.

Clinton Township Yes became aware of the “noncompliance” back in October, Linder stated.

“Ever since, we’ve been monitoring their social media,” Linder said. “And people in the community have been delivering to us copies of their pieces. They seem to be inconsistent in compliance with the law in terms of proper disclaimers.

“In addition, we have reviewed their campaign finance report and found that none of the things they have distributed or created have been reported as expenditures.”

Campaign finance reporting, conducted through the Macomb County Clerk/Register of Deeds Office, cited about four contributions — two direct and two in-kind — made by Clinton Township First between Nov. 26 and Dec. 31, totaling $7,700.

“It’s mind blowing that they’re trying to point the finger at Clinton Township First for some of these petty violations when they’re failing to disclose some $200,000 worth of dark money in their campaign,” Penna said in response. “That’s something I can expect from Steve Linder and his type.”

A total of 12 contributions made to Clinton Township Yes, between Oct. 8 and Dec. 30, totaled approximately $172,000. Linder called “dark money” a “pejorative term.”

“All our contributions are legally reported, properly reported,” Linder said. “There’s nothing more to say about it.”

Penna, who said his group feels “great” and energized, defaulted to a press release in regard to the filed complaint. At press time, he was still waiting on briefs pertaining to his appeal.

“(Clinton Township Yes is) playing games. These are petty games,” he said. “They’re trying to distract from the real issues. It’s consistent to what they’ve been doing all along. … They’re trying to win an election by confusion.”

Linder countered by saying Clinton Township First has acted all along with “nonsensical legal justification and rationale.” He said the group’s Nancy Reagan-style messaging, of “Just Say No,” isn’t working.

“We feel that we are making the correct messaging to let people know that there is great economic benefit, in terms of investment, jobs, taxes,” Linder said. “But more importantly, that it is safe for these businesses to be in the community because of all of the rules and restrictions that the industry has to comply with.”