Whitmer Shifts Payment of Florida Trip to Campaign Committee

May 28, 2021 Updated: June 1, 2021

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is being accused of violating the law by paying for a personal trip with funds from a nonprofit formed to help pay for her inauguration.

Whitmer flew to Florida on March 12 and returned on March 15. She has said she traveled to take care of her father.

Christopher Trebilcock, a lawyer representing the nonprofit, Michigan Transition 2019, said in a letter obtained by The Epoch Times that payment for the private flight Whitmer took was being shifted to Whitmer’s campaign fund.

A Whitmer aide secured the flight from Detroit-based PVS Chemicals, which charged $27,521. Whitmer paid just $855 out of pocket.

“Under federal tax laws and state nonprofit law, Michigan Transition 2019 may pay expenses related to the carrying out of its exempt purposes. It was determined that the expense of the non-commercial flight was reasonable and necessary given the serious and varied threats to the personal safety of the Governor as advised by security experts,” Trebilcock wrote in the letter to state Rep. Steve Johnson.

Media reports on the trip led the parties to come to understand that there was a problem with the payment.

“Notwithstanding that the payment of the trip was a proper expense of Michigan Transition 2019 under tax and nonprofit law, legal counsel for PVS advised Michigan Transition 2019 on May 17 that because of PVS’ status as a Part 91 operator, FAA rules do not allow the operator to accept any flight reimbursements except from a candidate campaign committee. Based on this new understanding, the cost of the flight will now be paid from the Whitmer for Governor campaign fund consistent with FAA rules,” the lawyer wrote.

He claimed that payment for the flight by Whitmer’s campaign is allowed under the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, which permits such committees to make expenditures for incidental expenses “paid or incurred in carrying out the business of an elective office.”

The trip fell under the act not because of its purpose, but because Whitmer “would not have incurred the security expenses for travel to see her ailing father on short notice” if she were not in elected office, Trebilcock alleged.

Johnson, a Republican who chairs the Michigan House Oversight Committee, questioned that claim.

“I still question whether you are allowed to use your campaign funds to pay for a personal vacation,” he told The Epoch Times on Friday.

He also said the letter made clear the governor broke the law.

“The governor is admitting to breaking the law that they were not legally allowed to pay out of that nonprofit,” he said.

Whitmer’s office and Trebilcock did not respond to requests for comment.

Johnson wrote to the governor last week asking for more details about the Florida trip. Some of the questions he asked went unanswered. Johnson and his team are reviewing Trebilcock’s letter and mulling their next steps.

The Internal Revenue Service, a federal agency, was asked last week to investigate Whitmer’s trip, alleging it was not within the exempt purpose Michigan Transition 2019 enjoys as a nonprofit.

Now that the payment is shifting to the governor’s campaign, which falls under the state’s jurisdiction. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, would investigate that.

“It’s highly unlikely that her friend is going to do an investigation. So I think legally she’s probably hoping that [move] will get her out of trouble in that regard,” Johnson said.

Benson “cannot proactively investigate anyone; someone has to file a campaign finance violation complaint with the Department to trigger an investigation,” a spokeswoman for the official told The Epoch Times in an email.

News of Whitmer’s trip first arose last month in reporting in media outlets. She omitted the trip during an interview that took place just days before news of the trip emerged.

Whitmer has described her Florida jaunt as “certainly not spring break,” emphasizing that she spent her time “helping out” her father, who she said is “battling some chronic illness.

“It was a two-day trip. I wasn’t out partying in Miami. It’s a very different situation than what they’re portraying,” she has said.

Michigan Rising Action, a conservative group that seeks to hold liberals accountable, said the payment shift was a move of desperation.

“Governor Whitmer is desperately reversing course as she stares down potential federal investigations, and her attorney’s letter only raises new questions over the legality of a campaign committee paying for the personal expenses of an individual,” Eric Ventimiglia, executive director of the group, said in a statement. “Michigan Rising Action will continue taking action to ensure Governor Whitmer is held accountable.”

PVS Chemicals, meanwhile, said that it approved the request from a governor’s aide. The aide told the company the request was out of concern for Whitmer’s safety.

PVS said it was still answering questions from the FAA, which regulates air travel, about compliance with federal rules.

“Over the past few weeks, we took the position that questions about this flight would be best addressed by the governor’s office,” David Nicholson, the firm’s president, said in a press statement. “In the future, PVS will follow a newly-created policy to deny all requests to fly candidates or government officials.”

An FAA spokeswoman told The Epoch Times in an email that the plane in question does not have a Part 135 certificate.

She called it “premature to conclude that a violation of Federal Aviation Regulations occurred,” adding that the agency is looking into the matter.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
Follow Zachary on Parler: @zackstieber