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Karamo blames ‘deep state,’ as Mackinac fundraiser drives GOP deeper in debt

Kristina Karamo at a podium
Michigan GOP Chair Kristina Karamo says the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference was not a money maker (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Michigan GOP Chair Kristina Karamo confirms loan to pay Mackinac conference speaker
  • Speaking fee for actor Jim Caviezel adds to debt for cash-strapped party ahead of 2024 election cycle
  • Karamo claims ‘deep state’ attempted to undermine conference

LANSING – The cash-strapped Michigan GOP took on more debt when it used a loan to cover a $110,000 speaker fee for last month's Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, chair Kristina Karamo confirmed this week. 

The state party used the loan to pay actor Jim Caviezel, Karamo told Republican activists Thursday night in Macomb County, where she and chief of staff Joel Studebaker spent more than an hour attempting to rebut internal party claims about their administration.


Barely mentioned: Upcoming 2024 elections and how the state party, which has serious money problems, will be able to help Republican candidates win the state House, congressional races and an open U.S. Senate seat.


While the biennial Mackinac conference has traditionally been a fundraiser for the Michigan GOP, Karamo and Studebaker suggested the party would not have been able to afford Caviezel without the loan. And without him, they may have had to cancel the event or failed to fill hotel rooms at the Grand Hotel, where the party was already on the hook for a $150,000 bill.

In that respect, the loan was a "net benefit," Karamo said during a question-and-answer period, according to a recording reviewed by Bridge Michigan. 

Karamo had told reporters at the Mackinac conference that she expected the party would at least break even on the event but did disclose the loan at that time, nor did she explain why filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza had canceled a previously advertised keynote address. 

"We had a goal to raise money for that event, and unfortunately that did not occur," Karamo acknowledged Thursday. 

But at least it wasn't a "drunkfest like years past," she added, suggesting the party saved money by not purchasing any liquor for the conference. 

Under a contract signed in 2012, the Michigan GOP is obligated to pay the Grand Hotel a $150,000 reservation fee every year until 2029, whether or not the party actually holds the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference again, Karamo said. 

Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy was the only presidential candidate  to speak at this year’s event, which has traditionally drawn several top-tier candidates. But that was not for lack of trying, Karamo said, suggesting establishment Republicans who have been excised from the party discouraged candidate participation in order to see her fail. 

"This whole deep state thing is very real," she said. 

The new Mackinac loan adds to the debt Karamo says her administration inherited when she took over the party from former Chair Ron Weiser in February. As of April, that debt totaled about $641,000, according to Studebaker, who said the party discovered a previously undisclosed credit card balance at that time. 

"Fundraising has been a challenge. It's been very difficult," Studebaker said. 

But he argued that Karamo's campaign pledge to focus on high-volume, small dollar donors "is the right plan.” It will just take "more time" to materialize, he said.

While fundraising helps the party achieve its intended purpose – electing Republicans — Karamo suggested it is not the only metric by which to judge her and other grassroots activists who took over the party in a populist movement inspired by former President Donald Trump. 


"Our Republican elected officials... betray us constantly because they are bought and paid for by forces that don't share our values," she said. "So the reality is that when we're trying to operate with integrity, it will be a bigger challenge for us to raise money."

Studebaker urged GOP activists to end party infighting, which has so far spurred physical fights at two state party meetings and led to misdemeanor criminal charges against three activists. 

"You got to be able to work together, and there's no way we're going to be able to do that if we keep giving liberal media interviews and keep walking through demonization schemes," he said. 

"The baseless claims of lies, of fraud and of nefarious intent are all a demonization attempt to disrupt and undermine the state party."

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