Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and his aides held a meeting in a state office to discuss the 2016 Republican National Convention, according to emails released Wednesday by a liberal group that alleges Schuette illegally used his public job to aid his political campaigns.
The information was included in hundreds of emails disclosed by Progress Michigan, which obtained them from "several" people who responded in recent days to subpoenas mailed by an attorney for a Progress Michigan employee who sued Schuette in May. The emails show that Schuette — who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in next week's primary — and his staffers used their personal email accounts to plan fundraising and other political activities, but in some cases sent the emails and held political meetings during regular business hours.
That was allowed because employees could use their lunch hour or take time off to do the non-state work, said Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely, who called the emails' release "more political games" from opponents "attempting to change the outcome of the election."
But Michigan law prohibits the use of public resources, including office space and computers, for campaign business. The 45-minute meeting to discuss the convention in Cleveland was scheduled on July 23, 2015, at the attorney general's state office in Detroit and was to include senior adviser Rusty Hills, then-public affairs director John Sellek, constituent relations head Wendy Anderson and Schuette's political fundraising consultant Katy Tylus.
Bitely said the meeting was to determine information that would be contained in remarks that Schuette delivered in his "official capacity" at the convention, despite it being a partisan convention.
But a rival GOP candidate, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, said Schuette lied, calling it the "height of dishonesty" to suggest he was planning a convention speech more than a year in advance — and long before speakers would have been decided. Another Republican candidate, state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, said it is clear that Schuette — the primary front-runner — would be a "liability" for other GOP candidates on the November ballot.
Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott also said Schuette's explanation for holding a convention-related meeting on state property was "not believable," questioning why his fundraiser was in attendance, and noting it and other meetings that day did not appear on Schuette's official calendar. He said Schuette's spokeswoman "must be auditioning for the role of White House press secretary because she has been telling some real whoppers today."
Bitely said Tylus, the fundraising consultant, attended on a voluntary basis to work on logistics for the convention.
The emails disclosed Wednesday followed the emergence Tuesday of an email in which Schuette set an August 2015 meeting to discuss "presidential politics" during a workday before he endorsed Jeb Bush, and Calley's release last week of Schuette's official schedule — which he said was too light and indicative that he spends too much time politicking.
Schuette has defended his work ethic.
Stu Sandler, executive director super political action committee backing Schuette, noted that Calley — who is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act — has not voluntarily released his own calendar and skipped some of his duties as lieutenant governor while getting a master's degree at Harvard University.
"It's time to stop the double standard," Sandler said.