By CRAIG MAUGER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING — As Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration makes use of a nonprofit organization to help respond to the water crisis in Flint, it’s impossible to tell where much of the money funding the nonprofit is really coming from.
Over the last year, the Moving Michigan Forward Fund, which discloses its donors and the amounts they give, has taken $525,000 — 83 percent of its total haul over that period — from other nonprofits tied to Snyder that haven't met that level of disclosure.
Over the last three months alone, Moving Michigan Forward has reported a total of $295,000 in contributions, according to a new post on its website. Of that, $225,000 came from another nonprofit, Making Government Accountable, which was reportedly set up to help Snyder share Michigan’s successes with the entire country in 2015 as he pondered a potential run for president.
The majority of Moving Michigan Forward’s expenses, $179,356, in the last three months went to “Flint outreach,” which the fund describes as direct mail, tele-town halls, robocalls and billboards.
The shifting of money from non-disclosing groups makes true donor transparency — and accountability for that matter — impossible for Moving Michigan Forward.
The public can’t tell if a few large donors with policy proposals before state government are writing checks to win favor with Snyder or if the checks are being written within days of certain votes or bill signings. On top of that, the setup could also give donors protection from having their names tied to the crisis in Flint.
It was public frustration with donor secrecy that helped spur Snyder to shut down his original non-disclosing nonprofit, the New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify Fund, also known as the NERD Fund.
The fund raised $1.3 million from secret donors in 2011, $368,000 in 2012 and $513,000 from them in 2013 before Snyder shut it down at the end of that year.
According to Michigan Public Radio, Snyder, who emphasized the need for transparency as a candidate in 2010, said the fund had become a “distraction” and he planned to start another organization that would disclose its donors online. That was Moving Michigan Forward.
Moving Michigan Forward has posted quarterly reports online dating back to 2013. From 2013 through 2014, the year in which Snyder won re-election, the fund listed donors online, like PVS Chemicals, which gave $25,000 and businessman William Parfet, who gave $25,000.
But in 2015, after the election, the fund’s donor list began to look different. The vast majority of the fund’s donations began coming from other nonprofits tied to Snyder.
Since the start of 2015, Moving Michigan Forward has reported $350,000 in contributions from Celebrating the Power of Michigan, a nonprofit that’s been used to organize inauguration festivities for Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.
The organization doesn’t disclose donation dates and donation amounts, but administration officials have previously pointed to a list of supporters on the last inauguration program to show where the money in the fund had come from.
Making Government Accountable apparently provides even less disclosure than that. Supporters of Snyder set the fund up in 2015 to help Snyder spread the “Michigan message about managing the budget, reducing pension liabilities and getting the debt down," a Snyder aide told the Associated Press last year.
According to its articles of incorporation, the fund’s missions include the following: “engaging in activities to educate the public and elected leaders in the United States of America, the states and local governments, to advance ideas and programs that reinvent, innovate and create responsive productive government institutions at the federal, state and local level, to promote responsible public policy and to promote the free markets and economic vitality of the United States of America.”
Peter Kulick, an attorney with Dickinson Wright, is listed as Making Government Accountable’s incorporator on a document filed with the state. He didn’t respond to a request for comment this week.
Peter Ellsworth, also of Dickinson Wright, is listed as Making Government Accountable’s resident agent. He didn’t immediately respond to questions of whether the group would disclose its donors or whether the organization continues to raise money.
In addition to Making Government Accountable, Arlo Steel ($10,000), Robert S. Taubman ($25,000), Schupan & Sons Inc. ($10,000) and Michael and Susan Jandernoa ($25,000) have also given to Moving Michigan Forward in the last three months, according to its most recent disclosure.