Donations grew for NERD Fund in '13
Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder’s controversial NERD Fund hauled in more anonymous donations last year than in 2012, even as the fund’s secrecy drew political fire and the governor began disbanding it in October.
The New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify Fund accepted $513,000, a 39 percent increase from 2012, according to the nonprofit group’s recently released 2013 tax document.
Set up by Snyder’s office to have private donors pay for some expenses associated with governing, the NERD Fund spent $713,727 on travel, meetings, management and legal bills in 2013 — a 20 percent increase from 2012, records show.
“The problem with that is we don’t know what considerations they ever got and we probably never will,” said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
Robinson said he’s not surprised the fund received more donations in 2013 because it was a non-election year.
“Two point two million dollars from undisclosed sources is a lot of money,” Robinson said. “Officeholders just plain stay the hell away from these dark money kinds of operations.”
Snyder, who pledged transparency during his 2010 campaign for governor, ordered the fund be shut down last year after Democrats criticized him for using it to pay top aide Rich Baird’s $100,000 annual salary in an unusual state government employment arrangement.
Baird’s work on projects involving emergency management in Detroit, education reform and other controversial initiatives raised questions about who was paying his contract with the fund through a consulting company, MI Partners LLC. In October 2013, Snyder moved Baird onto the governor’s office payroll at an annual salary of $140,000.
The fund also initially paid for a condo at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel for Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. But it’s unclear how long that arrangement lasted because the fund is not required to disclose itemized expenses such as political campaign committees.
Snyder refused to disclose the fund’s contributors, citing previous assurances to donors their contributions would remain anonymous, as allowed by federal law for this form of a nonprofit “social welfare” organization.
Instead, the governor set up a new nonprofit fund called Moving Michigan Forward that discloses its donors in quarterly reports on a website. As of Sept. 30, the new group had raised $422,940 in donations from mostly corporations and spent $391,844 from the fourth quarter of 2013 through the first three quarters of this year, records show.
Moving Michigan Forward’s biggest donors have included $50,000 from HTC Global Services Inc. and $25,000 donations each from Consumers Energy, Jackson National Life Insurance Co., HNTB Corp., PVS Chemicals Inc., the Health Care Association of Michigan, Edifecs Inc., Delta Dental, the Michigan Health and Hospital Association and William Parfet, chairman and CEO of MPI Research in Mattawan.
Haworth Inc., which has a state furniture contract worth as much as $41 million, contributed $15,000 to Moving Michigan Forward on July 25, according to the group’s recently disclosed third quarter report.
Snyder’s office has previously said the fund is mostly used to reimburse staff members for travel and lodging expenses, easing burdens previous governors placed on the state budget.
The NERD Fund’s 2013 tax form shows the group ended last year with $19,224 as it began to disband.
W. Alan Wilk, a Lansing attorney who has done legal compliance work for the NERD Fund, said the organization has not been fully disbanded because of ongoing litigation labor activist Robert Davis brought against the fund, Baird and others.
That lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court remains open while lawyers negotiate sanctions a judge leveled against Davis and his attorney, Wilk said.
“That’s the only activity that has occurred” in the past year, Wilk said.