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James remains short of charitable donation promise. Here's by how much


Lansing — John James, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate who prominently vowed to give 5% of the campaign money he raised to charity, remains well short of that goal five months after Election Day, according to a Detroit News analysis.

As of March 31, the James campaign reported $46.12 million in total contributions — not including money that had been refunded to donors. The campaign disclosed about $1.36 million in spending it described as "charitable," about 2.9% of its fundraising amount.

The Farmington Hills businessman who lost to U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said he still intends to achieve the 5% pledge and noted that he has $1.1 million available in his campaign account, enough to fill the gap. But he wouldn't set a deadline for when the goal would be met, and he said the target wasn't tied to the Nov. 3 election.

"I have committed to the 5%," James said Monday. "I am continuing to deliver on the promise.”

During the 2020 campaign, James repeatedly touted his "Nickel Promise." In one of his ads that focused on the program, James said his campaign would contribute "5%, or just a nickel, for every dollar we raise to improving the lives of Michiganders."

"When I decided to run, I made the commitment I wasn’t going to wait until I got elected to help Michiganders," James tweeted on May 20, 2020. "That's what the Nickel Promise is all about. Five cents for every dollar you give goes to serving our neighbors. Let's do some good together."

His campaign has about $968,000 more in charitable contributions to make to reach the 5% goal, according to an analysis by The News. James said he believes the gulf is closer to $800,000.

The campaign reported having $1.1 million still available as of the beginning of April with some Republicans emphasizing the total as money that could boost James if he decides to run for another office next year.

Since Election Day, the campaign has reported about $355,000 in charitable contributions.

"We do have a gap to fill," James said. "But quite frankly, the environment is dynamic, and the need will always be there."

He added that he's proud of the "Nickel Promise" effort, which was spurred by his father's charitable giving and his Christian faith, he said. He described the program as "long term" and a "sacrifice." He also credited his donors.

But Rodericka Applewhaite, spokeswoman for the Michigan Democratic Party, blasted James on Monday, saying his failure to achieve the 5% promise was "more proof that two-time statewide loser John James is nothing more than a dishonest and failed politician."

"Just like (former President Donald) Trump, James will do or say anything to promote himself — even if it means lying to Michigan families about donating to charities," Applewhaite said. "Instead of going into full damage control mode now that he got caught, James should come clean to Michiganders about his broken promises."

James ran for the U.S. Senate in 2018 and 2020. In 2018, he lost to incumbent U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, by 6 percentage points but outperformed expectations and garnered a national following among Republicans.

Two years later, James lost to Peters by less than 2 percentage points, a closer margin than Trump's defeat against Democrat Joe Biden. Some Michigan Republicans are hoping that James challenges Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, or runs for a U.S. House seat in 2022.

His race against Peters last year attracted about $206 million in campaign donations and spending, including an outpouring of money from groups that worked outside of the two candidates' campaigns, according to tracking by the nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network. The nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics ranked the race the eighth most expensive U.S. Senate contest in the nation for the election cycle.

The "Nickel Promise" was a focus of the James campaign throughout 2020. The initiative was based around the "Nickel Ride," a reference to a U.S. Army tradition involving a pilot's initial flight. James is a military veteran who flew helicopters in the Army.

"I am running because I have a passion for service," James said in a Jan. 31, 2020, press release. “It is by the grace of God and a generous grassroots army that I am able to use my blessings to be a blessing to others.

"I am overjoyed that I don’t have to wait until I get elected to begin helping Michiganders who need it the most."

James touted his "Nickel Promise" in an ad days before Nov. 3 election.

"We’ve given over a million dollars to homeless shelters, victims of domestic violence, veterans groups. It’s been a blessing from God," he said in the ad.

Campaign finance disclosures show that the James campaign made about 100 charitable contributions during 2019, 2020 and the first months of 2021.

However, as of now, they don't equal 5% of his fundraising haul. They also don't equal 5% of the money James had reported raising as of Sept. 30, 2020, more than a month before Election Day. At that point, the James campaign reported $32.89 million in contributions. His overall charitable contributions represented about 4.1% of the Sept. 30 total.

Among the top recipients of his campaign's donations are Detroit Central City Community Mental Health, which got $200,000; the Michigan Hospitality Industry Employee Relief Fund, which received  $100,00;  and the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, which got $55,000.

The Food Bank of Eastern Michigan received $40,000, the Midland Community Fund received $25,000 and the Macomb Food Program received $25,000, according to disclosures.

cmauger@detroitnews.com