The legalized bribery that infests our political system isn’t limited to campaign contributions, for it also includes slush funds set up by politicians after they are elected to office.
If the names of campaign donors are disclosed, we at least know who is paying the bribes. It is far worse when Section 501(c)4 of the Internal Revenue Code allows the creation of slush funds as nonprofits whose donors don’t have to be disclosed. Combine this lack of transparency with the disastrous 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows unlimited corporate and union spending on “independent” campaign efforts, and there is no limit to how much a donor can contribute, making for a perfect money laundering scheme.
So it is with Gov. Rick Snyder’s New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify (NERD) Fund, which has raised about $1.7 million from unidentified donors. This money has been used for such purposes as paying the $100,000 a year salary for Snyder aide Richard Baird, a retired PricewaterhouseCoopers executive, $4,200 a month in living expenses for Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, and improvements to Snyder’s home.
Three NERD Fund directors received political appointments, with Fund President Charlie Secchia, a Grand Rapids developer, put on the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority, Fund Secretary-Treasurer Brad Canale, executive director of advancement at the University of MIchigan College of Engineering, named to the Natural Resources Trust Fund, and past Fund Vice President David Nicholson, an executive at PVS Chemicals Inc. in Detroit, getting on the Wayne State University Board of Governors.
Political donations are usually used to benefit the donor financially, through government contracts and subsidies, and legislation that improves their bottom line. Naturally, the public interest never enters into the equation. We have to ask who the politician owes their loyalty to: The taxpayers who elected them to office and pay their salary or the campaign and slush fund donors?
At a deposition in the Detroit bankruptcy case, Sharon Levine, lawyer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, asked Snyder, who ran for governor in 2010 on a promise of transparency, who has donated to the NERD Fund. His reply was, “I don’t know,” claiming that the NERD Fund board has the answer. If anyone believes that lie, how would you like to buy some Florida swampland?
Snyder has responded to negative publicity about the NERD Fund with damage control. While continuing to refuse to disclose who has contributed and the amounts of their contributions, he will close the NERD Fund at the end of the year, replacing it with a new nonprofit that will disclose its donors. Baird was transferred to the state payroll with a $140,000 a year salary.
Meanwhile, Highland Park labor activist Robert Davis sued Snyder and the NERD Fund in Ingham County Circuit Court, asking for the disclosure of Fund donors. Judge James Jamo ordered Snyder and the NERD Fund not to alter or destroy any Fund records while the case is pending.
But it is possible that we may never know who bought Snyder, thanks to Senate Bill 652, which transfers the Court of Claims from Ingham County Circuit Court and expands its jurisdiction to include the Davis lawsuit. Under the bill, the Michigan Supreme Court, which has a 5-2 Republican majority, will appoint four Michigan Court of Appeals judges to hear Court of Claims cases, including those already in progress, such as the Davis case.
This bill went on the fast track, passed by both houses of the Legislature in two weeks on virtual party line votes with little debate. Snyder said he plans to sign it, expecting a Republican Court of Appeals judge to complete the cover-up.