SOS Benson must release wrongly withheld FOIA documents

A Court of Claims Judge ruled Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson must release more internal records about campaign finance violations of a group backing Gretchen Whitmer for governor in 2018.

“Although defendants’ arguments were made in good-faith and were reasonable, they for the most part did not succeed,” Judge Christopher Murray wrote Oct. 13 in a 16-page ruling.

The Detroit News first reported the story.

Murray ruled Benson improperly withheld documents from a public records request by the conservative group Michigan Rising Action about campaign finance complaints filed against the group “Build a Better Michigan.”

In 2019, Build a Better Michigan agreed to a $37,500 settlement, the News reported. Republicans argued the settlement was small compared to the violation. Despite claiming to fall within “issue advocacy,” the group spent more than $2 million on TV ads promoting then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate. The ads explicitly named Whitmer as a candidate for governor, meaning the expenditures should have been a campaign finance expense.

Murray ordered Benson’s office to produce “a significant number of additional documents,” awarded Michigan Rising Action reasonable attorney fees, and closed the case.

Those additional documents include communication between the law firm representing Build a Better Michigan and some department personnel and a draft conciliation agreement for the advocacy group.

Plaintiff Tori Sachs, former executive director of Michigan Rising Action and now the executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, welcomed the ruling.

“The Court of Claims has ruled in our favor agreeing that it’s time for Jocelyn Benson to come clean and release public documents related to her handling of the Gretchen Whitmer campaign finance scandal from 2018,” Sachs said in a statement.

“Benson has spent the last two years hiding documents from Michigan voters and using taxpayer dollars to defend the secrecy in court. The Secretary of State has been hiding public records about her handling of campaign finance violations committed by Whitmer’s campaign allies but she won’t get away with it. The Court’s ruling is a positive step to help tear the curtain back on the secret deal between Benson and Whitmer. Michiganders deserve the truth.”

Benson’s office hasn’t yet responded to an inquiry from the Center Square.

This article was originally posted on SOS Benson must release wrongly withheld FOIA documents

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