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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used funds from an inauguration-related nonprofit to pay for a $27,521 trip to Florida to visit her ailing father in March, her chief of staff clarified Friday.
On Wednesday, the governor told reporters she had not used taxpayer funds for the trip and it was not a “gift,” but refused to elaborate, FOX 2 in Detroit reported.
“She continued to carry out her duties as governor while she assisted her father [in Florida] with household duties like cooking and cleaning,” JoAnne Huls, the governor’s chief of staff, wrote in a memo to senior staff. “The governor’s flight was not a gift, not paid for at taxpayer expense, and was done in compliance with the law,”
Whitmer reportedly paid $855 out of pocket for her seat on the flight.
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“As chief of staff, I acknowledge we could have done a better job of answering questions about this trip with more clarity while also balancing the need to protect the governor’s security, and for that I take responsibility,” Huls said in the memo.
The governor’s office chartered a flight because of ongoing security concerns and the coronavirus pandemic, using money from the Michigan Transition 2019 fund, a nonprofit originally formed for her inauguration.
Donors to the fund included many of Michigan’s largest special-interest groups and lobbying firms, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network reported.
Whitmer was targeted in a foiled kidnapping plot last year and her office said she still receives an “incredible number” of death threats, according to FOX 2.
The fund “defrays the cost of the governor’s travel when it’s consistent with the account’s purposes,” Huls said, according to the Detroit News, which reported a 2019 tax filing said its mission is “civic action and social welfare.”
Conservative group seeks probe
Tori Sachs, executive director for the conservative Michigan Rising Action, has called for Whitmer’s use of the nonprofit for her travel to be investigated.
“501c4’s are governed by IRS and there is no legal theory where reimbursing $800 for a $27K flight solves anything,” Sachs tweeted Friday. “Whitmer’s personal use of her 501c4 account funds must be investigated.”
A Republican National Committee spokesperson said in a statement Friday: “Gretchen Whitmer’s web of half-truths and side-stepped questions is coming undone and it’s clear that Michiganders need answers. What else is Gretchen Whitmer hiding?”
The governor flew on a Gulfstream 280 business jet that is normally used by several wealthy Michigan families for the March 12-15 trip, according to the News.
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Whitmer was unvaccinated during the trip and later warned Michiganders about traveling to Florida as cases ticked up during spring break in both states.