WEDNESDAY, AUG. 8 — Ingham County Commissioner Dennis Louney could soon face more legal trouble after dozens more campaign-related messages were found buried within his taxpayer-funded email account.
Louney — who lost last night’s primary election in District No. 10 — for months illegally sought donations and endorsements, promoted fundraisers and formed campaign strategies through his county email address, according to reports pried loose in a Freedom of Information Act request. And now he’ll have to face the music.
“Ignorance is not a defense,” said County Clerk Barb Byrum. “This is not acceptable behavior.”
Michigan’s Bureau of Elections last month announced plans to investigate Louney following reports that he disseminated campaign literature through his county email.
Louney then chalked it up to a simple mistake, but Byrum has since discovered a pattern of similar emails that suggested a “blatant disregard” for the law, she said.
A local resident in June emailed Louney on his county email address to request a yard sign. He replied the next day, thanked the resident for supporting him, promised the sign would be delivered and told the resident about a chance to pitch in with some weekend doorknocking ahead of the election.
Louney then admitted in an interview he had made an error.
“I should have known better, but I didn’t realize I was violating any sort of law,” he claimed last month.
Campaign finance law expressly forbids the use of taxpayer funded resources — like a county commissioner’s email account — to further a political campaign.
The bureau has since received an initial complaint against Louney. Officials said consequences often include an informal warning. Other times they include hefty fines.
Officials haven’t yet imposed any sanctions, but Byrum ensured they’ll have plenty more material to review.
A FOIA request filed last month by an unnamed resident sought to uncover additional violations with Louney’s inbox. Byrum — suspicious after the previous complaint — personally reviewed the findings, she said. And she was so “appalled” that she opted to personally file another complaint to the state.
“Something just wasn’t sitting right,” Byrum added. “My gut told me to take a closer look at this.”
Louney emailed an official at Sparrow Health System in March for input regarding his campaign. He later sought to chat with the same person to discuss his opponent’s “strange” behavior. Other emails showed Louney reached out to officials at local labor unions and Lansing Community College to discuss endorsements.
Several emails included fliers to promote previous campaign fundraisers and to solicit donations. Perhaps most notably, he emailed Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon to ask for her endorsement ahead of the election. Her response eluded to campaign finance law restrictions, noting she would later reply from her personal email.
Louney, however, didn’t seem to take the hint. Reports showed the emails continued through June.
“That’s not good at all,” said Victor Celentino, vice chairman of the Board of Commissioners. “It’s not just about setting policies. This job has other responsibilities and you have to make sure you’re taking them seriously. You have to follow campaign finance rules. He’s in a leadership position and has to be careful about his emails. He should have known better.”
Louney didn’t return multiple phone calls on Wednesday. Byrum said the latest complaint will likely be handled like typical campaign finance violation reports. State officials will still need to conduct a full review before they impose any sanctions, and the timeframe for that process remains largely unclear.
Visit lansingcitypulse.com for updates as they become available.