Group that sought to influence ’09 Hills election fined

A group that mailed flyers to voters right before the 2009 Rochester Hills City Council election without registering as a campaign committee has been fined nearly $8,000 by the Michigan Department of State.

After a June 7 administrative hearing, Taxpayers for Accountability was found to be in violation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. The law requires that anyone who spends more than $500 to influence an election must file paperwork as a campaign committee, including disclosure of donors. TFA never did so, registering instead with the IRS as a 527 group, which has different rules.

TFA’s attorney, Mike Bosnic, argued that the campaign literature was protected issues advocacy and therefore not covered by state law. The judge disagreed. The group now has 30 days to appeal or submit the required paperwork and pay the fine.

Rochester Hills resident Lorraine McGoldrick filed the complaint, pursuing it for two years as it made its way through the system. She said she was happy with the decision, if not the fine.

“It was what I was expecting from the merits of the case,” she said. “The late fines should have been closer to $18,000.” She said she expects TFA to appeal.

Bosnic, said the case is far from over.

“This is a four-quarter game. We’re probably in the first quarter,” he said. “It’s got to work its way up.” He said the appeal could be filed in circuit court in either Oakland or Ingham County. Because state law allows 60 days for the appeal to be filed, Bosnic said he may seek an injunction to avoid a conflict with the order to comply within 30 days.

TFA’s chief officer of record is Andy Porter. The mailing listed an Auburn Hills post-office box as the group’s address. The mailing targeted then-incumbent city councilmen Erik Ambrozaitis and James Rosen, calling them “the No Slate,” including their photos and saying “Say no to the No Slate.”

The judge found that the wording crossed the line by advocating the defeat of specific, clearly identified candidates. By doing that, the judge ruled, TFA became a campaign committee. The flyers cost $3,888.

Ambrozaitis was defeated in the 2009 election, losing his seat on council. On Monday, voters chose him to run against Mayor Bryan Barnett in this year’s general election. Rosen retained his seat and remains on council.

McGoldrick, who once ran for city council, said she pursued the complaint because “I’m an advocate. I’m comfortable as a citizen that people follow the rules. When I ran for office, I read those rules. … When that flyer was sent out, I knew it was wrong. … People shouldn’t get away with that kind of tactic, which hurts fairness in the community.”

McGoldrick originally took her complaint to then-Oakland County Clerk Ruth Johnson. By the time of the hearing, Johnson had been elected Secretary of State. Bosnic tried to compel her to testify at the hearing, but she declined. He said that’s still an issue for him.

“We’re still within the purview of the Secretary of State; that was one of my issues,” he said. “I don’t want to cast aspersions on anyone. … The approach the Secretary of State has taken with this case is far different than the approach they’ve taken in any other case. So draw your own conclusions.”

McGoldrick called the focus on Johnson “ridiculous.” “I have every right to visit my elected official,” she said. “This went through two Secretaries of State, not just one. So you can’t blame Ruth without blaming (her predecessor) Terri Lynn Land.”

McGoldrick said she’s hoping the case has a positive effect on this year’s election.

“If we don’t have a negative flyer going out to candidates that aren’t part of slate politics in Rochester Hills, I’ve had a huge personal victory,” she said. But she won’t be satisfied until the donors behind the flyers are put on the record. Her attempts to get the IRS to follow up have so far been unsuccessful.

“We may never know; that’s my biggest fear,” she said. “My biggest hope is that it stops happening. I was hoping to prove to our citizenship that the complaint process works. …

“The voter does not understand our personal responsibility to monitor and gate-keep elections.”

By ANNETTE KINGSBURY

Rochester Media

Comments

  1. Why do some people feel they are above the law and don’t have to follow the rules?

  2. Mark Tisdale continues to get funding from Taxpayers for Accountability through Mike Bosnic and was a surprise top vote for Council. People need to stop being sheep and following the slate!

  3. Dan Schmidt says

    Where to start with this?
    First, Annette interviews her friend, a known gadfly. Maybe you should have put her vote percentage when you identify her as a former “candidate.”
    Second, there was no “judge,” as this “journalist” misidentifies the hearing officer– a DIRECT EMPLOYEE of Ruth Johnson.
    Third, to the comment above. How is Mark Tisdale getting funding from a group that disbanded after the 2009 election? On the other hand, this conspiracy theory is no worse than those spun by Annette and Lorraine.
    Fourth, I called Mr. Bosnic to ask about this. He told me that he offered Ms. Kingsbury the transcrpit of the hearing, and she said she didn’t want one. She would rather depend on Lorraine’s testimony. Lorraine also accused Commissioner Mattis of bribery during the course of this hearing. She is not what you’d call reliable.
    If Rochester Media wants their articles to continue to be picked up by the Oakland Press, they need to do at least a modicum of fact checking.

    • Anonymous says

      This level of threats should be criminal. It happens too often in Rochester Hills. More people have to care or voices are stopped and we all suffer when the real story does not come out!

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