Snyder cuts ties with PR firm hired for Flint crisis

Jonathan Oosting Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing – Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is no longer working with one of two public relations firms hired to help his office during the ongoing Flint water contamination crisis.

The governor has cut ties with Mercury Public Affairs of Washington, D.C., spokesman Ari Adler confirmed Friday. The firm had been paid through Moving Michigan Forward, Snyder’s 501(c)4 “social welfare” fund, and did not receive taxpayer dollars.

“Mercury’s agreement with Moving Michigan Forward was to provide short-term crisis communications support following the emergency declaration in Flint,” said Adler, who took over as the governor’s communications director in late February. “That agreement was completed.”

The Snyder fund continues to pay Bill Nowling of Finn Partners, a New York firm with an office in Detroit. He is providing “support with Flint-related communications on an as-needed basis,” Adler said.

Both PR firms have ties to the governor’s office. Chief of Staff Jarrod Agen’s wife has worked for Mercury, which bills itself as “a high-stakes public strategy firm.” Nowling was a spokesman for Snyder’s 2010 campaign and ran press for former Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

Snyder has faced criticism for the PR hires. U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, jabbed the governor in January, calling the water crisis “an ongoing public health emergency, not a public relations problem.”

Snyder created the Moving Michigan Forward fund in late 2014 as a more transparent replacement for his controversial New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify Fund, which had been paying the salary of top adviser Rich Baird and living expenses for Orr.

The new fund can still accept unlimited, anonymous contributions from corporations or individuals but has been voluntarily disclosing donors online. The most recent filing, from the fourth quarter of 2015, showed $60,000 in contributions, including a $25,000 donation from Consumers Energy.

The fund’s website indicates it is now raising funds for “constituent outreach efforts aimed at increasing awareness of resources available to Flint residents, including updating them on where to find water resource sites, bottled water, water filters for individual homes and businesses, replacement filter cartridges, water testing kits and more.”

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