Populist Leadership Is Remaking the Michigan GOP from the Ground Up, Despite Opposition

A battle is raging in Michigan to determine whether the state GOP will be led by the grassroots and small donations, or a top-down approach to party leadership.
Populist Leadership Is Remaking the Michigan GOP from the Ground Up, Despite Opposition
Kristina Karamo speaks at a rally hosted by former President Donald Trump near Washington, Mich., on April 2, 2022. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Steven Kovac
12/7/2023
Updated:
12/7/2023
0:00

Kristina Karamo, the Trump-backed chair of the Republican Party of Michigan, has declared, “I was elected to disrupt decades of corruption and to return power back to the people.”

Ms. Karamo’s quest has ignited virulent opposition from what has come to be known as the “establishment” faction within the party that is seeking to remove her from her post.

In a Dec. 5 interview with The Epoch Times, Ms. Karamo dismissed her critics, saying, “They simply want their power back.”

Since taking office in February this year, the first-term chairperson has been vilified for her activism in the state’s election integrity movement, her conservative views, and her philosophy for party organization.

As a result, big-money contributions from many wealthy donors have all but dried up.

New GOP Dependent on Small Donations

Party treasurer Jennifer Standerfer, an accountant with 16 years of experience in private sector and government accounting, acknowledged the situation, telling The Epoch Times, “Donations are significantly down, as we have gone from being funded by a few large donors to largely being funded by the grassroots.

“Kristina is working on getting donations for the party and in November, we received $300,000 in donations.”

One prominent Republican leader, who wanted to remain anonymous, is glad to be free from the party’s past dependence on “about 12 megadonors and all the strings that came with it.”

“They controlled who the candidates would be, and they ensured that there would be no chance for a constitutionalist candidate,” the source said.

The same leader told The Epoch Times that before Ms. Karamo was elected, the average donation per registered Republican was 20 cents.

He said grassroots giving will increase under her leadership.

Ms. Karamo said, if the main qualification for a state party chairperson becomes one’s close personal connection with megadonors, “That will mean that only a wealthy person would ever be elected chair.”

Critics Speak Out

“Kristina Karamo did nothing to raise money,” said Bree Moeggenberg, a state committee member representing Isabella County, located in rural central Michigan.

Not pleased with Ms. Karamo or her staff, Ms. Moeggenberg is leading the effort to remove the chairperson from office. According to party rules, a 75 percent vote of the 107-member state committee is required to remove the chair.

Michigan GOP State Committee member Bree Moeggenberg. (Courtesy of Bree Moeggenberg)
Michigan GOP State Committee member Bree Moeggenberg. (Courtesy of Bree Moeggenberg)

“The number of my opponents is not even close to that,” Ms. Karamo said.

Ms. Moeggenberg describes Ms. Karamo’s leadership style as controlling, manipulative, non-communicative, and uncooperative.

Ms. Moeggenberg told The Epoch Times she is a MAGA (Make America Great Again) Republican, small businesswoman, single mother, and a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump.

“The abuse of authority is a sin. Kristina is pushing people away,” Ms. Moeggenberg said. “I believe the majority of the state committee no longer has confidence in her.”

According to Ms. Moeggenberg, pursuant to party rules, a third of the membership has signed a petition calling for a special meeting to be held on Dec. 27 for the purpose of initiating the process of Ms. Karamo’s removal.

“She can resign anytime to avoid further acrimony, division, and embarrassment,” Ms. Moeggenberg said.

Treasurer Pushes Back Against Accusations

Amid the loss of big donors, other critical state committee members determined to replace Ms. Karamo claim to have evidence that she has run the party into deep debt by financial malfeasance in the administration of her office. They also contend that the state party is under investigation by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).

Party Treasurer Standerfer responded to those accusations in a Dec. 6 email to The Epoch Times.

“MIGOP was left with significant debt by the previous administration; $460,000 on a Line of Credit and $180,000 in credit card debt.

“We paid down a portion of the credit card debt and consolidated the rest of the Line of Credit, leaving us with (a debt of) $508,000.

“We are currently looking into options on how we can address the outstanding debt.”

When asked by The Epoch Times if she has seen any indication of irregularities in the party’s finances, Ms. Standerfer replied, “In my role as treasurer, I have seen nothing that would indicate financial mismanagement or illegality.”

“This claim seems to come from the fact that we have received 4 Requests for Additional Information from the FEC this year. These requests are typically routine in nature and for comparison, the previous administration received 15 in 2022.

“I have spoken with the FEC a couple of times since becoming Treasurer and when we last spoke just before Thanksgiving, there were no concerns mentioned by them.”

Ms. Standerfer stated, “None of Kristina’s critics have reached out to me.”

Ms. Karamo told The Epoch Times, “People are lying about me and trying to ruin my reputation and spread discord. I haven’t violated any laws, rules, or bylaws.

“We have an accountant and also a forensic accountant on our budget committee.

“Though we are not yet raising as much money as we would like, we are not in such financial trouble that we cannot operate.”

Trimming the Fat

Ms. Standerfer said that, along with the revenue side, the expense side of the ledger is also being addressed by “cutting the previous administration’s expenses.

“Our payroll costs are 90 percent lower than previous non-election years.”

The cost of the upcoming state party convention will be 70 percent lower than that of previous conventions, she stated.

Keys to Success

Ms. Karamo and her leadership team have encouraged and partnered with concerned citizens who recently handed Michigan’s Democrat Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, her sixth court loss relating to her administration of statewide elections.

“Achieving secure and fair elections is essential to the future success of the GOP in Michigan,” Ms. Karamo said.

Another of Ms. Karamo’s goals and objectives is to, “Make sure that at least the Republican areas of Michigan have good political representation.

“Our involvement does not stop when the winner is declared. We are also committed to holding elected officials accountable after the election.”

Preparing for 2024

Looking ahead to the 2024 general election, Ms. Karamo said the people of Michigan must “depend on God and good information and not the state party” to set things right in the Great Lakes State.

“We are working to have an informed and engaged populace that participates in the process of self-government beyond just voting. We want them to engage with their elected officials and neighbors about important issues.

“We are teaching people to attend and engage at county commission, municipal, school board, and local party meetings.”

To accomplish the state party’s precinct-level engagement strategy, Ms. Karamo’s leadership team has created the “Good Neighbor Program” to organize Republicans into neighborhood teams.

“We’re using an online training platform similar to those used in private business as a first step. So far, it’s looking good. People are signing up,” she said.

Steven Kovac reports for The Epoch Times from Michigan. He is a general news reporter who has covered topics related to rising consumer prices to election security issues. He can be reached at [email protected]