Michigan AG to probe group seeking to repeal governor powers

Coronavirus

FILE – In this March 5, 2020, file photo, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel addresses the media during a news conference in Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/David Eggert, File)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s attorney general opened an investigation Monday into allegations that a ballot group may have committed crimes while gathering signatures to repeal a law that gives Gov. Gretchen Whitmer broad powers to manage the coronavirus crisis.

Dana Nessel, a Democrat, said her office will probe Unlock Michigan, a Republican-affiliated committee that plans to submit its signatures Friday. If the group turns in enough — it needs 340,000 valid signatures — the initiative will go to the Legislature.

Majority Republicans could enact the measure into law, and it could not be vetoed by the Democratic governor. Whitmer has used the 1945 law to continually extend a state of emergency, the underpinning of her sweeping orders that restrict business operations, limit gathering sizes and require masks in public.

The Detroit Free Press has reported on deceptive, potentially illegal tactics engaged by people who were hired to gather signatures. The League of Women Voters and John Pirich, a retired election lawyer, subsequently wrote letters seeking an investigation.

“Our ballot initiative process allows efforts with strong public support to be presented to the Legislature. But that process becomes tainted when petition circulators manipulate and cheat to serve their own agendas,” Nessel, who has supported Whitmer’s use of emergency powers, said in a statement. “My office will investigate these allegations, and if there is a violation of law, we will prosecute those responsible.”

Fred Wszolek, spokesman for Unlock Michigan, called the probe “a partisan political farce, which is to be expected from this partisan political attorney general.”

The Free Press, citing a secretly recorded video, reported last week that a company coached paid petition circulators on giving voters false information, illegally collecting signatures without witnessing them, trespassing on private property and even lying under oath.

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