Lansing – A Conservative group filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service on Wednesday, arguing that a nonprofit was breaking the flights that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer went to visit her father in Florida, but not properly financed.
The new filing from Eric Ventimiglia, executive director of Michigan Rising Action states that the governor’s trip in a private plane in March did not fall under the tax-exempt purpose of the Michigan Transition 2019 welfare organization.
The nonprofit that was formed to fund Whitmer’s inauguration paid $ 27,521 to charter the aircraft that carried the governor. This resulted in a voluntary disclosure and memo from JoAnne Huls, Whitmer’s chief of staff. Whitmer paid the charitable $ 855 in exchange for her seat on the plane.
This Air Eagle twin-engine Gulfstream G280 flew from Lansing to Palm Beach on March 12 and returned to Lansing on March 15. Whitmer’s father Richard, the retired CEO of Michigan’s Blue Cross Blue Shield, owns a house in West Palm Beach. (Photo: Pablo José Velásquez López)
The financial agreement represented an unreasonable “private gain” to Whitmer, Ventimiglia wrote in its complaint. The IRS is the federal agency responsible for regulating nonprofit organizations.
“Given these facts, we encourage you to investigate whether Michigan Transition 2019 has violated the Internal Revenue Code and if it does so, take appropriate action, including assessing appropriate penalties,” Ventimiglia wrote.
Michigan Rising Action describes itself as “designed to hold liberal groups and their networks of special interest accountable and to advance conservative principles”.
Officials from the governor and Michigan Transition 2019 have stated they have obeyed the law. Christopher Trebilcock, a Michigan Transition 2019 attorney, said earlier this week that the organization will pay the governor’s travel expenses if “it is compatible with the purposes of the account.”
In a memo on Friday, Huls said the agreement was “made in accordance with the law”.
“Due to ongoing safety and health concerns, we have decided to use a charter flight for this trip,” Huls wrote.
Whitmer went to see her father Richard on March 12th and returned on March 15th. She traveled on an airplane primarily used by three prominent Detroit business families. The governor has said she cooked and cleaned for her father, who has a chronic illness, during the trip.
“If a family member needs a little help from me, I’ll show up,” said Whitmer.
She has also said that she performed duties in her office, including attending meetings, while looking after her father. The trip became known on April 19, but questions about it haunted the administration for weeks.
According to the Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, federal tax law prohibits nonprofits from engaging in procurement practices — that is, using charitable income or assets to unduly benefit an individual closely related to the exempt organization.
The IRS may impose an excise tax on transactions that provide an “excess advantage” to someone who, according to the agency’s website, “can have a significant impact on the affairs of the tax-exempt organization concerned”.
It’s unclear who else traveled to Florida on the plane with Whitmer, and whether federal regulators believe the flights fall within the scope of the nonprofit’s statutory governing body.
The nonprofit’s mission, according to a 2019 tax return, is “to promote the advancement of civic activity and social well-being by promoting the common good and general well-being of Michigan residents and visitors.”
Michigan Transition 2019 said it raised $ 1 million in 2019 after raising $ 2.5 million in 2018, the year the governor was elected.
In addition to the IRS complaint, House Oversight Chairman Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, said earlier this week that his panel could consider the financial arrangements behind the flights. And the Federal Aviation Administration is looking into whether Air Eagle, the company that owns the plane used by the governor, could have offered the flights for money under its current licenses.
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