Ron Armstrong’s battle against COVID-19 restrictions has made him one of Michigan’s best-known anti-mask, anti-vaccine and anti-quarantine figures. It has also become a financial boon for his company, which makes tabletop displays and has raised tens of thousands of dollars from the activist groups he created.
In addition, two political candidates who were supported by his organizations paid Armstrong thousands more. Armstrong’s spokesperson noted he hasn’t broken any laws, but a good government watchdog says it all stinks.
“This speaks to the gaping loopholes in Michigan’s campaign finance law,” said Simon Schuster, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a non-partisan organization. “As a result, we see that people can use their positions of power or their place in political movements to their advantage. “
Through his groups Unlock Michigan and Stand Up Michigan, Armstrong is leading another effort to reduce the state’s ability to respond to epidemics as it faces the nation’s worst COVID-19 outbreak and a glut of patients threaten to overwhelm hospitals on the Upper Peninsula. in Detroit. And a spokesperson for Unlock Michigan reported that the flow of money to Armstrong had just started.
“It will show up in campaign fundraising reports whenever it becomes available to the public,” said GOP member Fred Wszolek. “It will be disclosed when necessary.”
As Michigan’s fight against COVID-19 lockdowns turned increasingly bitter summer and last fall, distinctive brown and white signs sprouted on lawns and grassy strips across the country. Midwest State.
“End the Endless Whitmer Shutdown!” They cried. They wore the badge of Unlock Michigan, a petition campaign to curb the emergency powers of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that has garnered more than half a million signatures.
State campaign funding records reveal the provenance of the signs, as well as the Unlock Michigan flags and tabletop displays that clustered together last year at public events and near government buildings: the initiative paid just under $ 38,000 to Armstrong Display Concepts in the small town of Newaygo.
The company, which obtained a paycheck protection program loan in January to cover 12 employees, has raised an additional $ 7,578.58 thanks to the campaigns of Supreme Court candidates Justice Brock Swartzle and Mary Kelly. state that have received the approval of Unlock Michigan and Stand Up Michigan.
These expenses occurred despite records showing no history of Armstrong Display Concepts providing services to another state or to a federal campaign. The company’s website shows that it makes a product called “Ultralight X,” a presentation board that folds up to resemble a briefcase.
Stand Up Michigan has also blanketed the state with road signs for the past year and a half, but its financial information to the Internal Revenue Service is not yet available so it is impossible to see if it has also done so. deal with Armstrong. However, the trademark application for the band’s Paul Revere style logo is in Armstrong’s name, and he is the only publicly listed contact.
Neither Armstrong nor his company responded to requests for comment. Neither does retired prosecutor Mary Kelly, one of Michigan’s two presidential contenders whose campaigns have pumped money into Armstrong’s affairs.
But Wszolek, who also worked on the election of Court of Appeals Judge Brock Swartzle, the other unsuccessful candidate for the state Supreme Court, said Armstrong’s company was a “small competitive bidder ”- although he declined to say how many bids the campaigns received.
“I have nothing to tell you,” Wszolek said. “He delivered a fantastic product at a fantastic price.”
Schuster called the payments of judicial candidates to a company with no political experience until last year “overwhelming.”
“It sounds like something that is too much of a coincidence,” he told The Daily Beast. “It risks sullying the intention and reputation of these organizations when key figures in these movements benefit from these activities. “
Unlock Michigan has now launched its “2.0” effort: a new petition campaign to change state laws to prevent any epidemic order from lasting longer than 28 days, a proposal that has panicked public health officials.
Earlier this year, Armstrong headlined a mask-burning event in Grand Rapids, as well as a “freedom festival” in Livingston County in June and a rally against the anti-vaccine mandate in Lansing in August. Every locality – and Grand Rapids in particular – has seen its number of COVID-19 cases increase in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, his Unlock Michigan co-chair, Meshawn Maddock, took over as head of the state’s Republican Party in January, weeks after personally leading a state bus trip to violent pro-Trump protests in Washington, DC
Also in April, Armstrong’s Stand Up Michigan co-founder Garrett Soldano launched a campaign for the governorship.
Schuster complained that the COVID-19 political wars have turned the state into a war zone where right-wing dark money groups like the Battle of Armstrong, equally opaque organizations aligned with Whitmer.
“These are issues that have consequences in people’s daily lives,” he said. “And because we don’t know who is fueling these fights, we don’t have transparency.”