LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday announced a more transparent nonprofit fund to replace one that came under scrutiny because unlimited funds from anonymous donors were used to pay a top aide and some expenses for Detroit's emergency manager.
Snyder announced in October that he was disbanding his New Energy to Reinvest and Diversify, or NERD, fund because criticism had become an "unnecessary distraction" even though the fund was in compliance with the law.
The Michigan Forward Fund will regularly report donors, the amount contributed and when contributed on a website, said fund chairman Bill Martin, CEO of the Michigan Association of Realtors. Martin said Thursday the purpose of the new fund, like the NERD fund, is to offset financial burdens on government.
"The basic difference you'll see is every dollar given to this fund and the amount and categories of spending. It goes way beyond what the law calls for," he said.
Snyder previously said he would not make public the donors who contributed nearly $1.7 million in 2011 and 2012 because the parameters were such that they could be anonymous. NERD, a nonprofit social welfare organization, had a roughly $230,000 balance at the end of 2012; a filing for 2013 is not yet available.
The replacement fund reported on the website more than $123,000 in contributions in the last quarter and nearly $67,000 in expenses. Donors included HTC Global Services Inc. ($50,000); Consumer Energy Co. and Jackson National Life Insurance ($25,000 each); Alticor Inc., which gives heavily to Republican causes ($20,000). The Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association gave nearly $3,000 and Snyder chief of staff Dennis Muchmore donated $500.
Expenses went toward travel reimbursement, operations, fundraising, compliance and mobile office hours and high-tech town halls conducted by Snyder.
Before the dissolution of the NERD fund, money had been spent to upgrade a press auditorium in Snyder's Lansing office and cover travel expenses of staffers, among other things. But the decision to spend $100,000 a year on Snyder's "transformation manager" Rich Baird drew criticism from Democrats. So did the decision to reimburse Detroit's emergency manager Kevyn Orr's housing and commuting expenses.
Baird since has been moved to the state payroll.
It is not unusual for governors to have nonprofit or charitable funds that are separate from their campaign and leadership committees. They typically pay for upgrades to the official governor's residences or for more political activities such traveling to partisan conventions.
But the NERD fund attracted more attention in part because it was 501c4 that could accept unlimited, secret donations from corporations and others.
Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Thursday that any money left in the NERD fund is being used for bills or has been put into escrow to cover Orr's future expenses. The fund also is expected to be reimbursed some legal fees after a judge imposed sanctions on Highland Park activist Robert Davis for improperly suing new Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the NERD fund and Baird on the eve of the mayoral election in November.
"This new political fund should be considered an admission of guilt by Rick Snyder. By refusing to disclose his secret NERD fund donors, it sends a strong signal that this governor has something to hide," said Zack Pohl, spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer.
Moving Michigan Forward fund: www.movingmiforward.com