Former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield was reportedly living an extravagant lifestyle in relation to his roughly $100,000 taxpayer-funded salary, thanks in part to lax campaign finance laws that allow for more or less unchecked fundraising and spending.
The father of five is reported to have frequently traveled by plane and had a personal driver in his brother, who took him on jaunts through Detroit that included visits to strip clubs and stays at the upscale Shinola Hotel.
Bridge Michigan and the Michigan Campaign Finance Network dig into available financial records and find a political nonprofit tied to Chatfield spent more than $450,000 on food, dining, travel and entertainment in 2020 alone.
Separately, Chatfield reportedly raised more than $5 million through several Political Action Committees during his six years in office, an unprecedented amount for a legislator.
Among other revelations, a Bridge-MCFN investigation into his finances found:
• Two of the highest-paid House staffers under Chatfield, Rob and Anne Minard, also controlled the finances for the Peninsula Fund while owning a consulting firm that was paid nearly $500,000 from various Chatfield funds. One of the two staffers also coordinated Chatfield’s travel, according to his brother.
• Chatfield paid four immediate family members nearly $115,000 in total from various accounts since he was elected in 2014.
• Chatfield went on numerous trips paid for by outside organizations, but Michigan’s weak transparency laws meant he had to disclose none of them.
Chatfield's influence appeared to help those in his orbit get paid big time too. The Minards, a husband and wife each earning six-figure salaries as senior staffers for the house speaker, managed to rake in $1 million via the side political consultancy that served other GOP leaders. Chatfield left office last year due to term limits.
The revelations are described as "corruption" by Sen. Ed McBroom, chair of the Senate Oversight Committee. The Republican who previously served with Chatfield in the House also calls them “very disturbing and very heartbreaking.”
Chatfield's spending and fundraising are drawing scrutiny in the wake of sexual assault allegations leveled by his sister-in-law, Rebekah Chatfield, who says Chatfield began grooming and assaulting her as a minor.
The ex-politician's attorney says the relationship was consensual. As for the spending, the attorney tells Bridge that Chatfield believes it was legal.
A primer on Michigan's long relationship with hidden political spending is available here, via Chad Livengood of Crain's Detroit Business.