Michigan’s speaker of the House of Representatives testified that state Rep. Larry Inman was never threatened for the vote he allegedly attempted to sell for campaign funds in June 2018.
Taking the stand in federal court, Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, dismissed notions that Inman would have lost committee appointments or faced other consequences from the Republican caucus if he voted against his party’s stance on repealing the state’s prevailing wage law.
Inman, R-Williamsburg, has been charged with bribery, attempted extortion and lying to the FBI. He’s accused of seeking campaign funds to vote against a repeal of the state’s prevailing-wage law. The issue would have gone to voters if the state House of Representatives or Senate had not approved the initiative.
Inman sent texts to union representatives requesting $30,000 each for himself and a dozen other Republicans to vote against the repeal, according to the indictment. Instead, he voted with the majority to repeal the law, which required union-level wages for work on public facilities, such as schools.
The law was repealed by a 56-53 vote.
Chatfield was the first witness to testify Thursday, Dec. 5, on day three of Inman’s bribery and extortion trial in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids. The speaker called Inman a friend. He denied ever seeing Inman have trouble thinking or speaking logically, or ever noticing he was high on drugs, as questioned by the prosecution.
But the speaker said Inman’s apparent attempts to use his vote to solicit funds, as laid out in the indictment, was inappropriate and “behavior unbecoming of a legislator.”
During his testimony, Chatfield said the Republican caucus holds an annual training to ensure its members are aware of the “dos and don’ts of fundraising” and what is and isn’t ethical.
“It’s a common rule you don’t link finances with legislation,” the speaker said.
He said he found Inman’s alleged attempt to sell his vote for campaign funds to be inappropriate and a threat to the public’s trust in state government, which is why he and other members of the House stripped him of his committees and eventually voted out of the House Republicans caucus.
Chatfield agreed that the prevailing wage legislation was a “high-profile vote.” He said representatives had balanced pressure from caucus leadership and that any added pressure felt by Inman or other representatives would have come from the districts they serve.
When asked by the defense attorney, the speaker didn’t recall trying to “whip Inman’s vote” on the day of the vote last summer. After the vote, there was a text exchange between the two in which Inman said he was going to have a s— storm for voting to repeal the law.
“My seat is now at high risk, with no Dem votes I normally get to save my butt,” Inman’s text to Chatfield stated. “Now I need huge help with Door help and s— load of money. I am losing construction, nurses and teachers that have voted for me.”
Chatfield responded that a storm was ensuing regardless, and thanked Inman for “standing with the base and freedom.” Explaining his texts in court, the speaker said any vote can be used against a legislator during an election cycle.
The speaker said he didn’t believe Inman’s texts with him following the vote were illegal, or a “quid pro quo.” The messages he took issue with were the ones to union representatives that were included in the indictment against Inman.
Lisa Canada, political and legislative director of the Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights union, or MRCC, contacted authorities after Inman sent her a text requesting $30,000 each for himself and a dozen other Republicans to vote against repeal.
Two days before the vote, Inman sent texts to Canada and a lobbyist, Jim Kirsch. Inman said he desperately needed campaign funds because he would face a primary election if he voted against party leadership that favored repeal.
Inman ended the texts by saying that “we never had this discussion.”
Inman has contended that he accepted legal campaign contributions. His attorney, Christopher Cooke, has said he doesn’t believe his client acted unethically. Instead, he claimed the witnesses misconstrued Inman’s requests for campaign funds.
Before Tuesday’s testimony, Chatfield had previously attempted to avoid testifying by filing a motion to quash his subpoena. But District Judge Robert Jonker rejected the attempt.
The jury trial was expected to continue into Thursday afternoon in Jonker’s courtroom.