Secret recording reveals illegal tactics in petition campaign to repeal Whitmer's emergency powers 

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  • Michigan Capitol.

A California company hired to collect signatures to repeal the law that enables Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to impose restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic coached signature gatherers on running a dirty, illegal campaign.

The illegal tactics included gathering signatures without witnessing them, circulating petitions on private property, deceiving voters, and committing perjury, according to a secretly recorded videotape of a training session on Sept. 4.

In the recording, first obtained by The Detroit Free Press, Erik Tisinger, a trainer for In the Field, Inc., shares ideas with petition circulators to obtain signatures beyond what is allowed under state law.

"This can be a real shady job," Tisinger tells the trainees. "And when I say shady, I mean, people do all sorts of illegal shit all the time and never get caught. It's really hard to get caught doing shit except for, like, forgeries."

Unlock Michigan hired the California company to help gather about 500,000 signatures to repeal the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945, which is what enabled Whitmer to unilaterally impose restrictions to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Health officials credit the restrictions for drastically reducing COVID-19 cases.

Petition circulators are paid $3.50 per signature.

Last week, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said her office has received numerous complaints of using “deceptive tactics” to get signatures. In one complaint, a woman said a circulator approached her at the Eastern Market in Detroit and told her the petition was to support the LGBTQ+ community. Other people reported they were told the petitions were helping small businesses or supporting medical marijuana initiatives.

Fred Wszolek, a spokesman for Unlock Michigan, said the group won’t pay In the Field for signatures it gathers.

Whitmer called the recordings “deeply disturbing.”

Mark Fisk, a spokesman for Keep Michigan Safe, which opposes the petitions, said supporters were “caught red-handed again.”

"Unscrupulous and illegal tactics have become standard operating procedure for Unlock Michigan and this video showing a trainer encouraging people to break the law and lie under oath fits into a disturbing pattern,” Fisk said.

So far the group has collected more than 400,000 signatures.

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