LANSING, Mich. — The petition process to get on the ballot in Michigan this year has been plagued by rampant fraud.
Campaigns often contract companies to get the signatures they need to get on the ballot, but, even after spending thousands of dollars, five Republican candidates for governor have been disqualified.
So, which companies did candidates use? We’re digging a little deeper to find out.
“Oh, no, we haven't gotten our money back at all and have heard nothing from them," said Donna Brandenburg one of the disqualified candidates, who has appealed her disqualification to the Michigan Supreme Court.
“There's been no answer in the phone, no answering the text, no answering the emails. So I jokingly said through a little bit of pain that the company is in the wind," said Captain Mike Brown, who withdrew his candidacy after his petition signatures were challenged.
The Bureau of Elections found widespread fraud among the petition signatures. Two additional candidates, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and Perry Johnson “the quality guru” were also disqualified.
“It's a very painful situation. Nine months worth of work on my campaign for governor to have it ended in a few hours," Brown said.
All five candidates who were disqualified used signature gathering companies, a common practice. But Michigan State University Professor Matt Grossmann tells me it also incentivizes some shady practices.
“The obvious problem with that is that it incentivizes people to collect signatures, however aggressively or however invalidly they might be able to," Grossmann said.
The increased cost of running campaigns this year made the practice a more significant problem.
“And so people reached out to people who weren't as reputable to get those signatures gathered," Grossmann said.
Brown, Brandenburg and Craig’s campaigns confirmed to Fox 47 that their teams used a Michigan company called First Choice Contracting LLC. Perry Johnson’s team could not be reached for comment and Michael Markey says he didn’t use the Michigan firm but said some of the same circulators worked with multiple companies.
“That company has done business with other political professionals in Michigan and in the United States," Brown said.
But First Choice Consulting LLC and the man behind it Shawn Wilmoth of Warren have a documented history of fraud according to news reports across multiple states. The company’s webpage requires a password to log in and phone numbers associated the company don’t connect.
“I was having constant communication with the company really from January up until I guess it was last Monday," Brown said. But now, "the company is in the wind. It's kind of a police term, but that's accurate.”
Of the five candidates who were kicked off the ballot, both Markey, Johnson and Craig have been rejected by the Michigan Court of Appeals.
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