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Fund run by Wholihan seeks to insert “religious liberty” exemptions to state’s civil rights law expansion

The newly-elected chair of Michigan’s 7th District Republican Committee, Dan Wholihan, is also the operator of record of a political action committee that is working to convince legislators to water down a planned expansion of the state’s civil rights law.

A flier was spotted at Saturday’s Michigan Republican Party convention in Lansing urging precinct delegates to contact lawmakers about Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), introduced by Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), the first openly gay senator in the state. The bill seeks to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The flier, paid for by the Run Michigan Right Fund, states that passed as currently written, “it will end religious liberties for Michigan’s business, religious, and educational institutions. They will be forced to close rather than face the massive lawsuits from Michigan and out of state special interests.”

According to records with the State of Michigan,  the Run Michigan Right Fund is operated by Dan Wholihan, the three-time former chair of the Livingston County Republican Party, who recently won the race to run the committee representing Republicans in the 7th Congressional District, which includes all of Livingston, Ingham, Clinton and Shiawassee counties, most of of Eaton County, as well as small portions of Oakland and Genesee counties.

Wholihan is listed as both the treasurer and “Designated Record Keeper” for the fund, which lists a Brighton Post Office box. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network says the fund was launched by Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake).

The flier says Sen. Runestad has offered an amendment, which will be voted on before SB 4 is put up for passage.

“His amendment protects religious rights by codifying them as to prohibit discriminatory practices, policies, and customs in the exercise of those rights based upon religion, religious orientation and identity,” states the flier, which then urges delegates to contact three Senators from “battleground districts, where they won by very slim margins.”

Those Senators are identified as Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores), Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City) and Veronica Klinefelt (D-Eastpointe).

However, at least one of the three legislators has let it be known, they will not be approving the Runestad amendment.

“Spotted at the Michigan Republican convention,” Sen. Hertel said as he tweeted a picture of the flier. “I will be voting to expand the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act to include LGBTQ+ individuals. Discrimination is never ok.”

Similar efforts to include so-called “religious exemptions” have been rejected by majority Democrats as using vaguely worded language to allow a large portion of people to be exempt from the act so that they could then discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“This is not going to be a big fight; this isn’t going to be a fight at all,” Sen. Moss told the Michigan Advance about a previous proposal from the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) to amend SB 4.

The major contributors to the Run Michigan Right Fund include Henry Ford Health Systems, which has contributed $1,000, the Association of Builders and Contractors of Michigan PAC, also contributing $1,000 and the Auto Dealers of Michigan PAC, which has contributed $1,500.

When asked for comment, Wholihan responded with the following statement;

“I am the treasurer for several different PACs in Michigan. I have no further comment.”

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