Co-written with guest author Becky Behrends, M.D., and Vice President of Research for Michigan Citizens for Election Integrity (

Two of the frontrunners in the MI GOP Chair candidate race, former 2022 SOS candidate Kristina Karamo and former 2022 AG candidate Matt DePerno

The Michigan Conservative Coalition sponsored a Michigan GOP Chair Candidate Forum at the Suburban Collection Showplace on January 9th. An unprecedented number of candidates are vying for this position, eleven to be exact.

In the wake of the disappointing results of the 2022 Midterm elections, it is critical that the Republican Party leadership in Michigan is focused and capable of picking up the pieces and moving forward.

Billy Putman, Lena Epstein, Matt DePerno, Kristina Karamo, and JD Glaser

It is apparent that whether we like it or not, fundraising is the most critical issue facing the Michigan Republican party. The republicans were still engaged in traditional messaging methods, such as placing yard signs and staging rallies. In contrast, democrats, with their much greater funding sources, have control of the media and newsfeed ads. As a result, more people receive this type of messaging. Every punch and verbal assault aimed at republican candidates in TV ads and video feeds were not countered with “our side of the story.”

Purchasing media slots is hugely expensive; make no mistake about it. When candidates keep asking for money, this is why. Aside from the need to pay campaign staffers and for printing and publishing costs of written material, they require considerable funds to stay competitive in the digital/media world. No matter how good our candidates may be, they are dead in the water without financial help. Sadly, our candidates in Michigan have yet to give the usual support everyone expects from the donor class of citizens.

So, as we examine the various candidates for the MIGOP Chair position, the ability to raise funds was a front-and-center topic at the candidate forum.

The candidates presented two approaches to fundraising. Focus on precinct delegates and/or small businesses to do the work in raising funds or work with the establishment Republicans and big donors as well as delegates.

In that light, here is a summary of what the candidates said:

J.D. Glazer- “It is not the job of the MiGOP Chair to raise money; it’s the job of the delegates. The party belongs to them. There are 9000 precinct delegates in Michigan. If they raised $300 annually, it would provide the $3 million needed to fund the MIGOP. Additional money would be needed for elections, of course. So delegates would have to up it to at least $600 annually in their fundraising.”

Kristina Karamo- “There are 500,000 small businesses in Michigan. Contributions from each of them would provide the needed funding. We cannot allow a small donor class to call the shots if we take their money.”

Matthew DePerno- “ We cannot exclude people, including the establishment, from our party. We need to work with them and build coalitions. We will not have the needed funding otherwise.”

Last week, Matt DePerno received the endorsement of President Donald Trump.

Billy Putman – Believes that MiGOP should raise money “in-house” with the establishment of revenue-generating businesses. Do not depend on big donors.
He has been dubbed a “rural populist reformer” in Tuscola County, where he is the County GOP Chair.

Lena Epstein- claims that she raised more than $ 1 million in her run for U of M regent, which she lost. She believes she has more potential than any of the candidates to raise money. She is the general manager and co-owner of Vesco Oil Corporation.

The other candidates were not present at this event but will be included in the next forum in early February.

From my (Dr. Becky Behrend’s) perspective as an interested observer at this candidate debate, Matthew DePerno had the most compelling presentation.

I spoke with DePerno after the debate, and he felt that most of the audience members did not get the core message he was trying to drive home. He said that he came to the realization late in his failed campaign for Michigan Attorney General that big donor contributions are vital and, therefore, establishment party members cannot simply be jettisoned. Grass root conservatives fear selling out their core principles if they collaborate with the establishment segment of the GOP. DePerno feels that a middle ground needs to be found and that this can be done without sacrificing conservative principles. Prior to the event, DePerno challenged all the other candidates to each fundraise and contribute $20,000 to the MiGOP to pay for the state convention in February so that delegates would not have to pay an attendance fee of $50. It would be a test of their ability to fundraise. To my knowledge, there were no takers.

Putman’s approach raises the question, where will you get the money to establish MiGOP in-house businesses, which potentially may become self-sustaining? During his speech, he introduced his brother Blake, who is a doctor, and explained that his father was funding the construction of a medical building for him. Putman told the audience that he wants to “be part of a legacy that people can be proud of and say, ‘Hey, the Putman family gave something back,” which appeared to imply that his family would also be willing to fund a building for the GOP. MI GOP Co-Chair jumped in to ask him to confirm that he was pledging to use family money to fund a building for the MIGOP; he responded, “No!” Instead, Putnam said he would get funding from investors based on his family’s reputation.

It takes money to make money. Putman also demonstrates a problem with honesty. He was invited to attend a fundraising event at Mar-a-Lago for Matt DePerno, who was running for AG in Michigan. The requirements were $25,000 per couple in attendance, which included a photo op for ONE COUPLE with President Trump. Putman has a very large family. He brought his father and wife, and his brother Blake and his wife with him to Mar-a-Lago and did not pay the required funds, which would have totaled over $75,000 for the number of family members that accompanied him to Mar-a-Lago and received a photo with President Trump. Billy Putman II donated $6,250, Billy Putman III donated $6,250, Blake Putman donated $6,250, and Brandon Putman donated $6,250, for a total of just under $25,000, to the DePerno campaign. When he was called out on the scam after the Mar-a-Lago event, he told the DePerno campaign he would make up for the additional money through a series of big fundraisers, allegedly promising to raise $125,000 for the DePerno campaign. He never raised a penny for DePerno after the Mar-a-Lago event.

Billy Putman III also promised Karamo’s SOS campaign he would be a significant fundraiser. Unfortunately, he never followed through on his promise other than his role in a fundraiser hosted by the Tuscola County GOP. The fundraiser raised a meager (approximately) $2,000.

According to a source with inside knowledge, on March 31, 2022, US House candidate John Gibbs asked to comp 25 members of the Putman family at his fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago. A $25,000 per couple donation was required for two people (or a couple) to attend the event and have their photo taken with President Trump. The Putnam family took several photos with President Trump, including pictures with their children, yet records show that the Putmans never donated a penny to John Gibbs’ US House campaign.

According to a former member of the Gibbs campaign, the campaign was on the hook to pay Mar-a-Lago $450 per adult (10 adults) and $425 per child (15 children) as part of the costs to host the event.

According to Open Secrets and the FEC Donor website, the Gibbs campaign has yet to receive a penny from Billy Putman III, and we could not find any donations to the Gibbs campaign by other members of the Putman family.

US House candidate John Gibbs recently warned MI GOP Delegates not to vote for Billy Putnam in a Telegram post, calling him “really bad news”:

Andy Sloane responded to Gibbs’ comment claiming that the Putmans “gave up their vacation time in Florida and bailed you out at Mar-a-Lago,” and warned that Gibbs “may want to tread very carefully.” We can find no record of “Andy Sloane,” whose Facebook page appears to be a fake.

Blake Putman poses with his daughter and President Trump in one of several photos taken at Mar-a-Lago.

Photos taken at Mar-a-Lago fundraisers are from the Putman family’s Facebook page.

We reached out to John Gibbs, who did not return our request to discuss the Putman family’s attendance at his Mar-a-Lago event. We also reached out to Billy Putman, who refused to respond to our specific questions about promises made to fund Karamo, DePerno, and, likely, Gibbs, but Putman did not respond.

When Putman was asked at MCC’s MI GOP Chair forum how much he’s donated to MI GOP candidates and the county GOP office where they reside, he responded, “thousands,” and claimed his family has also donated “millions of hours” of their time. But, unfortunately, aside from the $6,950 he donated to Matt DePerno’s campaign as part of a joint contribution from 6 Putman family members to the Mar-a-Lago, we could only find one more donation for $250 to Shane Hernandez’s 2020 campaign for US House that he lost to Rep. Lisa McLain.

Why should we believe Billy Putman III will make good on raising the needed funds for the Michigan GOP if he can’t even make good on his donations to the campaigns of Karamo, Gibbs, and DePerno?

“To be persuasive, we must be believable; to be believable, we must be credible; credible, we must be truthful.” Edward R. Murrow

Karamo is a beloved, passionate promoter of conservative principles. However, the logistics of contacting 500,000 businesses, let alone expecting that they will deliver the needed donations, is somewhat unrealistic. Especially when so many small businesses can barely make ends meet in this era of high inflation, taxes, and strangling regulations. With minimum wages going up, many of these businesses will struggle to pay or even keep their employees.

Karamo believes that if average citizens perceive the GOP really represents their interests instead of the elite classes, they will donate. While Karamo is adored and respected by grassroots individuals and groups in Michigan, she quickly discovered, while running for SOS in 2022, how difficult it is to raise large amounts of money exclusively from small donors when large donors turn their backs on you.

J.D. Glazer needed to be more convincing in his argument that precinct delegates could and should fund the party. He is unknown as to his experience in organizational strategy and fundraising. He is best known for teaching delegates and grassroots activists” Robert’s Rules of Order” to help them better understand how conventions and GOP meetings should be run and to keep GOP leaders honest in how they conduct meetings.

Lena Epstein was Trump’s Co-Chair for his Michigan Campaign for the Presidency in 2016. With her business experience and likely high-profile donor connections, she could be an asset to the MIGOP. But she gives no credible explanation of how she would go about getting the needed funds. In 2022, the CEO of Vesco oil took the same path as other wealthy Republicans in Michigan and didn’t donate a penny to Kristina Karamo’s SoS campaign, Matt DePerno’s AG campaign, or Tudor Dixon’s campaign for MI Governor. Epstein, who was running for UofM Regent, did, however, make a $10,000 donation to the MIGOP, the largest donation (by far) that she’s made over the past ten years. From 2012-2022, the wealthy, successful businesswoman and Harvard grad has donated a measly average of $2,440 per year to individual candidates and the MIGOP, according to Open Secrets. On multiple occasions, Lena was asked to share how much she contributed to MI candidates and her local Republican Party, her response, after attempting several times to include her own self-funding, finally claimed she donated $100,000.

Here are screenshots from Open Secrets showing Epstein’s donations to candidates (other than herself) over the past ten years:

Epstein has lost every race she’s entered.

The Michigan Conservative Coalition shared the debate on their Facebook page. The debate can be watched here:

Despite the disheartening results of the midterm elections, many Republicans are fired up and ready to go. Precinct delegates have a crucial decision about who will lead the Michigan GOP going forward. The best solution would be for all these candidates to work together, regardless of who comes out on top as the chairperson. Each should contribute their unique skills. For the good of our beloved state and America!

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