Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley lodged new accusations against gubernatorial rival Bill Schuette on Thursday, saying the attorney general was personally involved in the transfer of property in the U.S. Virgin Islands while all of his assets were supposed to be in a blind trust.
Schuette, who deemed the allegations "false," said he and his sisters inherited the land when their mother and step-father died. He contended that he has not violated the "spirit" of the blind trust he voluntarily created to avoid conflicts of interest as Michigan's top law enforcement officer.
"It appears as though he's been directing the purchase and transfer of millions of dollars in offshore assets while attorney general," Calley said at a forum hosted by the Michigan Press Association. All seven major-party gubernatorial candidates participated in what was likely their only joint appearance.
Calley accused Schuette of hypocrisy for not disclosing certain personal financial information like members of Congress must do, which he said he has done even though it is not a requirement under state law. Calley's campaign released real estate records, signed by Schuette, showing the transfer of three St. John parcels — valued at $3.7 million — between two limited liability companies whose mailing addresses are Schuette's home in Midland.
"What are you hiding?" Calley said.
Schuette countered on the stage that the "desperate" Calley's allegations are "not true. All my assets are in a blind trust. I comply with that fully and completely." He added that he has released his income tax returns every year since becoming attorney general in 2011 and went on to criticize Calley for raising taxes, supporting "Obamacare" and renouncing his endorsement of Donald Trump in 2016.
Later, Schuette's campaign said he and his sisters own property in the Virgin Islands and Colorado that they inherited, have sold some parcels in transactions that are public and are actively trying to sell more, but Schuette has not bought assets "offshore" as Calley implied. The campaign said the properties, along with Schuette's main home and cottage in northern Michigan, have never been in the blind trust because they present no conflict of interest.
Calley spokesman Mike Schrimpf said Schuette "wants voters to believe that selling millions of dollars in real estate for his own benefit poses no potential for conflicts of interest." Schuette strategist John Sellek accused Calley of "diminishing the office he holds and more importantly, the one he seeks to occupy."
The wealthy Schuette's stepfather was chairman of Dow Chemical Co.
The sharp exchange came one day after the two men clashed in the first of two televised GOP debates that also featured state Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Dr. Jim Hines. Thursday's forum was the first and likely only time that the four Republicans and three Democrats will appear together to answer questions.
The candidates differed when asked why term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is receiving poor marks in polling despite many voters saying Michigan is on the right track and that the economy is improving.
The Democrats — former legislative leader Gretchen Whitmer, wealthy businessman Shri Thanedar and former Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed — mentioned the Flint water crisis for which Snyder's administration has been deemed primarily responsible.
"Running the state by spreadsheets and bottom lines does not work, and we have seen that," Thanedar said.
Said El-Sayed: "You poison 9,000 kids in a city like Flint, your approval numbers aren't going to be very high. ... You trade off a small business-oriented, worker-oriented economy for the kind of economy that subsidizes big corporations to automate our jobs, yes your approval numbers are not going to be so good. Let's be clear — it's a completely Republican agenda."
Whitmer said she is running to "fix the damn roads," improve education in a state with lagging reading scores and ensure that people get clean tap water.
"These are the fundamentals that Michigan families need fixed," she said.
Calley, who has served alongside Snyder, blamed his unpopularity on a "divisive political environment" and said Michigan is on the "comeback" thanks to the creation of 540,000 jobs, low unemployment and the in-bound migration off college students under their watch.
Schuette said Michigan "went through a tough time" but has rebounded "thanks to an entire Republican leadership team." But he said the state has not recovered all of the jobs lost during past downturns and 55 of 83 counties have lost population this decade. Other states are growing faster and to "go from good to great," he said, Michigan should cut the income tax and auto insurance premiums.