By Jessica Mathews /

No charges will be filed against paid petition circulators for a Republican-affiliated committee accused of using illegal, corrupt and improper tactics to obtain signatures, including in Livingston County.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel opened an investigation into Unlock Michigan last September after videos suggested evidence of irregularities in the way petition circulators obtained signatures. The undercover videos showed petition circulators using illegal tactics to gather signatures in Brighton and Howell to repeal a 1945 law that gave Governor Gretchen Whitmer broad powers to manage the coronavirus crisis without legislative approval. The law has since been struck down as unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court.

Nessel announced Wednesday that the investigation found clear evidence of misrepresentations by petition circulators and questionable training by persons who recruited and supervised paid circulators but the incidents were not in violation of any criminal statute. The group Keep Michigan Safe had opposed the petition drive and released the videos showing petition circulators using the alleged illegal tactics at the Brighton Farmers Market (top photo) and Howell Western Wear store (bottom photo).

A press release states videos showed attorney Gretchen Hertz engaging with petition circulators for approval to sign the name of her spouse to petitions at each location. However, it concluded that she “crossed the line” when she signed someone else’s name to the petitions. The AG’s report notes that while Hertz “may have been motivated by a sincere desire to ensure the integrity of the petition circulation process,” her actions were “problematic” and were a factor in the decision not to pursue criminal charges in the Unlock Michigan case. It added that there was “insufficient admissible evidence to support criminal charges.”

At the time, the manager of Howell Western Wear told WHMI there were some employees in support of the petition and allowed one to be placed in the store but stressed the business was not taking any political stance. However, the AG’s report concluded that Lynn Elberson, the owner of Howell Western Wear “probably aided and abetted the improper circulation of petitions” by allowing paid circulator David Scott to leave the petitions at her store for people to sign.

The report’s sharpest criticism was aimed at paid petition circulator Erik Tisinger, who was caught on video conducting a training session in which he “made multiple untrue statements” which they characterized as “unethical and possibly even immoral.” It went on to say that “it would actually be charitable to say Tisinger exemplifies the worst of the worst in the occupation of professional petition circulators. The evidence indicates that he is fully aware of the requirements of law and takes relish in finding ways around rules that would come between him and the money that can be made from circulating petitions.”

Despite that conclusion, the recommendation from Assistant Attorney General Richard Cunningham was against charges being filed as the “incidents were not in violation of any criminal statute. It is questionable as to whether such questionable tactics could even be made criminal in a free society.”

The Board of State Canvassers meets Thursday to certify the petitions from Unlock Michigan. If it does so, the GOP-led Legislature is then expected to vote to repeal the 1945 law that grants the governor emergency powers, thus bypassing an expected veto from the governor.