ESCANABA - Despite the Kent County prosecutor ending an investigation into an election scandal involving Republican Speaker of the House Jase Bolger and Rep. Roy Schmidt, the effects of the scandal may not be over.
In July, Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth released a report explaining the circumstances surrounding Bolger and Schmidt's involvement in the 76th District race in May.
"If you don't want to take it from me, the report is from the Kent County prosecutor, a Republican," said Mark Brewer, Michigan Democratic Party chair. "The prosecutor's report is pretty damning."
According to the report, Schmidt originally filed as a Democrat but changed his affiliation within minutes of the filing deadline on May 15. Schmidt and Bolger also worked to recruit 22-year-old, part-time college student Matthew Mojak to run as a Democrat in his place.
"It's unprecedented for this to be going on, especially at the highest level of government," said Brewer. "The Michigan Speaker of the House is one of the highest positions in the state."
When Bolger visited Escanaba in late July he told the Daily Press, "The bottom line is that today the Democrats are in exactly the same place they would have been if that Democrat had not filed and he later withdrew."
Brewer disagrees. "It would basically be blocking us from putting a Democrat on the ballot," he said. "They thought they could get away with it and they got caught."
According to Brewer, Bolger hasn't made an effort to apologize. "He's in this up to his neck and to this point he's not apologizing," Brewer told the Daily Press earlier this month. "He's doing what we call 'the non-apology apology tour.'"
While Forsyth did not prosecute, he did forward the report to the Michigan Secretary of State to be examined for a series of possible violations of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.
"There's a wide variety of crimes they could have been prosecuted for and we're very disappointed that the Kent County prosecutor did not prosecute them," said Brewer.
The only person that Forsyth claims may have violated Michigan Election Law in his July 17 report is Mojak, who may have committed perjury on his filing paperwork by claiming he had been a resident of Kent County for 22 years. Mojak in fact had been living outside the 76th District and changed his voter registration to an address within the district shortly before the May 15 deadline.
The state police wanted phone records to try to determine if Bolger and Schmidt knew that Mojak didn't live in the district when he signed his candidacy papers. The request, with a search warrant, could have taken weeks or months to fulfill. Forsyth stopped the investigation before police could pursue the records.
According to Forsyth, he ended the investigation because he wanted the public to know some details before the August primary election.
"I didn't think I could sit on this until September or October without this coming out," Forsyth, a Republican, told The Detroit News. "By not putting it out there, I would be influencing the election as well."
After Forsyth's report was released, Bing Goei, owner of Eastern Floral in Grand Rapids, launched a write-in campaign to challenge Schmidt less than three weeks before the August 7 primary. Schmidt won the primary by 423 votes and likely benefitted from absentee ballots submitted before the controversy became public.
While Bolger and Schmidt may not be facing criminal charges for violations of Michigan Election Law, the effects of the scandal may be far reaching.
"The House Democrats have introduced a number of bills to make sure this doesn't happen again," said Brewer.
The reform, bills which were introduced last Wednesday, could increase fines for election fraud, give extra time to find candidates for political parties who lose candidates to party switches within seven days of a deadline, and require candidates who switch parties to return campaign contributions.
"That legislation is pending and we're hoping the Republicans will take it up so that this kind of thing won't happen again," said Brewer.
Brewer hopes voters will remember Bolger and Schmidt's actions when they vote this November. "I think in general we have corruption at the highest levels of the Republican Party," he said. "It's not just one incident. There's been a number of these now and I think people should take that into account when they think of who to vote for this fall."