Schauer campaign: Investigate Snyder adviser for tax, voter fraud
Lansing – — Rich Baird, a top adviser to Gov. Rick Snyder, may be registered to vote and claiming property-tax-advantaged principle residency in two states, a Snyder spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.
Press secretary Sara Wurfel said those circumstances are inadvertent. Illinois has yet to update its voter files, she said, while the tax exemption was an oversight on closing papers when Baird bought his house in Bath.
But gubernatorial opponent Mark Schauer and Democrats claimed it’s potentially a case of tax and voter fraud.
“(A)nother one of Gov. Snyder’s top aides has been accused of trying to play by his own set of rules,” said Schauer campaign spokesperson Cathy Bacile Cunningham in a Thursday statement. “Richard Baird deserves to be investigated for tax fraud and voter fraud.”
Wurfel rejected the Democrats’ claims.
“It’s an unfortunate, but inadvertent, oversight and is far from ‘scandalous,’ ” she said.
Schauer, a former congressman and state senator from Battle Creek, is hoping to thwart Snyder’s bid for a second term as governor.
The revelations, first reported by the Lansing newsletter MIRS, is another controversy linked to Baird, recruited here by Snyder and initially paid through the governor’s now-disbanded anonymous-donor Nerd Fund.
The development also comes after Scott Woosley earlier this month resigned as the Snyder-appointed Michigan State Housing Development Authority director following disclosures he’d submitted state expense-account claims for lavish meals and drinks on overseas trips.
Baird, who was switched to the state payroll when the Nerd Fund was replaced by a more transparent non-public fund, is Snyder’s fix-it man and was a key adviser on the choice of Kevyn Orr as Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager.
MIRS said its investigation showed Baird is getting principal-residence property tax exemptions on a home he owns in Bath, near Lansing, and a family home in Illinois. In Michigan, the exemption gives a homeowner a lower property tax rate than the levy of up to 18 mills for school district operating purposes.
MIRS also said Baird has voter registrations in both Cook County, Ill., and Michigan. He recently ran for a Clinton County Republican precinct delegate slot. Bath is in Clinton County.
But Wurfel downplayed the the voter registration and property tax-principal residence issues.
“It was apparently an inadvertent error made in closing documents during the home purchase process,” Wurfel said about the tax exemption. “Rich is immediately contacting the county/township offices to verify information. And he will immediately pay any Michigan property taxes that were inadvertently exempted.”
She also said Baird “meets the definition of resident under both Michigan election law and the state’s Constitution since 2011 when he bought his home in Bath.”
Wurfel said Baird spends most of his time in Michigan and stays at his residence here five of seven days most weeks. He goes back to his other home in Illinois to spend time with his family on the weekends, Wurfel said.
“It’s a challenging situation for them, but one they believe is worth it to help make a difference in Michigan’s comeback and for the state where they are from, met and started their lives.” she said.
Wurfel said Baird has been a registered Michigan voter since he obtained a state driver’s license in 2013. He surrendered his Illinois driver’s license last spring and believes he’s no longer eligible to vote there, she said.
“To help ensure the state of Illinois’ voter files are up-to-date and accurate, Rich is immediately requesting that his voter registration there be rescinded,” Wurfel added.
But State Democratic Chairman Lon Johnson blasted the situation as part of “a pattern and practice of scandals from the Snyder administration” and called for an independent investigation.