GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Michigan Democrats have opened an online portal that they are hoping will help state employees and vendors report what they believe to be corruption in Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R) administration.
Rick Snyder was new to politics when he campaigned as the “One Tough Nerd” who would use his business skills to revive Michigan’s economy and its citizens’ faith in state government. Snyder both led and rode a Republican landslide to become Michigan’s governor in 2010.
Snyder didn’t delve into the issues much during that campaign. His platform was his business record of success as a venture capitalist and business executive.
Snyder promised to do for Michigan what he had done for Gateway Computers.
Democrats didn’t have much to run against four years ago.
Now Snyder has a record to run on — and against — in 2014.
Michigan Democrats couldn’t be happier and they hope the tipline site will help them accumulate evidence that Rick Snyder is not the right nerd for Michigan.
Ironically, it is a secretive fund bearing an acronym of the four-letter word Snyder adopted as his campaign theme that is putting a smile on the collective face of the state’s Democrats.
“This is not the Rick Snyder of 2010 where he was all happy talk, ‘I’m a nerd and I am going to come in and fix state government,’” said Joshua Pugh, the communications director of the Michigan Democratic Party. “This is the Rick Snyder who has been favoring his political cronies over everyone else in Michigan.”
Snyder would say his record is one of economic revival, of jobs growth and prosperity. Michigan’s unemployment rate has fallen to 7.5 percent in April 2014 from 13.6 percent four years before.
The Snyder team would also make the case that Michigan is much more “business friendly” if only because the state’s complex Michigan Business Tax — the subject of bipartisan disgust— has been replaced with a flat tax for businesses. However, Snyder also cut back on thousands of pages of business rules and regulations that proponents say made it easier to start and operate a business in Michigan.
Snyder also signed a historic deal with Canada to build a new bridge, the International Trade Crossing, from Detroit to Windsor.
His campaign began in January with stops at what the Snyder team described as “family businesses that have flourished,” and a “community college that is helping workers flourish.”
Michigan Democrats who want former congressman Mark Schauer to be the next governor are not using the word “flourish” to describe the four-year Snyder legacy.
They are trying to make the case that Snyder’s record is a story of favoritism, waste, fraud, and abuse, and they want state employees and vendors to add new chapters to the story through the online portal, TiplineMichigan.com.
“Tipline Michigan can’t turn corrupt officials into honest ones,” said Lon Johnson, Michigan Democratic Party chairman, in a statement. “But it will help promote clean, open, honest government.”
Pugh refused to say that it necessarily follows that Snyder is corrupt. However, he said that Snyder’s record “raises a lot of questions and they are questions that deserve answers.”
Many of those questions involve the Snyder administration’s New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify (NERD) fund, which accepted unlimited corporate donations from anonymous donors.
Among other things, the fund was used to pay some of the travel and housing expenses for Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr. Snyder aide Richard Baird was paid $100,000 out of the fund, until the Snyder administration hired Baird and put him on the state payroll as a transportation manager with a salary of $140,000.
Those facts are clear. However, no one knows who put $1.6 million into the NERD fund. Snyder testified in October 2013 he didn’t even know who had donated to the fund.
Snyder closed the NERD fund, saying that would be best for everyone. However, Snyder administration emails that became public in April 2014 — thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Michigan Democratic Party — raised the red flags of NERD fund controversy again.
The emails show that Baird, the Snyder aide who had been paid from NERD, told the head of the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget John Nixon in July 2011 that George Snyder, Gov. Snyder’s cousin, was worried about legislation that would have capped purchases of furniture from a company George Snyder ran, DBI Business Interiors of Lansing, at $1 million a year.
Nixon replied, “We are on it.”
However, Nixon told the Detroit Free Press what he meant was they were removing language that would have directed all sales of over $1 million to another company, Kentwood Office Furniture, located in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson said DBI and its contract partner Haworth were donors to funds run by the Republicans and Snyder, but nobody can say if DBI gave any money to the NERD fund, because all of the donations to that fund were anonymous.
Johnson confronted Rick Snyder at a pancake breakfast in Detroit and demanded an explanation. Snyder replied, according to the Detroit Free Press, that he “wouldn’t be baited by old school politics” and “people looking to fight.”
After the $1 million proposed cap on state furniture purchases by the state rejected by the Michigan Legislature, the Snyder Administration in 2012 then doubled the DBI office furniture contract from $19 million to $41 million.
Snyder’s cousin, George, also received a $731,119 no-bid contract for office furniture from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, a quasi-governmental agency.
The governor’s office and the Michigan Republican Party did not respond to requests for comment on this story, however, the governor’s press secretary, Sara Wurfel, has repeatedly said no favors were requested by DBI Business Interiors and none were granted.
She has consistently called it “a non-story.”