Ah yes, it was just four short years ago, the air was fresh with the hope of a new day for Michigan — voters, editorial boards, and songbirds, rejoiced alike. The Nerd had rolled-up his blue-collar sleeves to bestow upon the state the magic fairy dust of his corporate wizardry, enlightening even in the darkest political corners…
Funny how those campaign promises and political choices come home to roost. And how it cuts both ways.
Last week’s news brought word that former hedge fund manager, come environmental activist billionaire, Tom Steyer, announced that his super PAC — NextGen Climate Action plans to spend around $100 million in soft money to defeat seven climate-deniers in key races this November. Included among those is Michigan’s Terri Lynn Land, a Republican for the U.S. Senate, whose bumbling campaign is, of its own accord, rapidly ceding ground to her Democratic challenger, Gary Peters. Land’s veneer-thin knowledge of the issues will make NextGen’s job a snap.
From the NextGen website:
Issue ads — progressives love to rail against them, but until the day Citizens United is overturned, or there is popular support for a constitutional amendment, they remain the weapon of choice. Unilateral disarmament is foolish given the prevailing landscape of American politics, especially in Michigan — the home turf of dark money issue ads. A laying-down of arms would prove to be quite the boon for Americans for Prosperity.
We are soberly reminded of Snyder’s failed promise through a recent article authored by Rich Robinson, Director of the non-profit watchdog group Michigan Campaign Finance Network. An attorney by training, he typically defaults toward citing dry numbers and case-law, but he’s now penned an impassioned piece titled “Where’s the Ethics Platform?” intended to call out Gov. Snyder through a barbed editorial ranging back in time to 2010 when…
… Rick Snyder was a largely unknown, self-funded gubernatorial candidate taking on some of the most prominent Republican politicians in Michigan, his campaign published an ethics platform. Its headline read, “Create a Culture of Ethics in Michigan’s Government.”
With an undercurrent of cynicism, Robinson waxed nostalgic for Candidate Snyder’s call for transparency at the intersection of money and politics in the Great Lakes state. He brought-up the would-be governor’s pledge, then systematically enumerated the multiple post-election abuses that rendered that campaign pledge hollow. Among Snyder’s promises:
- “Michigan spends too much money on politics without getting results.”
- “A lack of financial disclosure enhances special interests influence over elected officials.”
- “The perception of poor ethical policies can damage the public’s trust and confidence.”
(Just change that campaign rhetoric to the past-tense, and it perfectly describes Gov. Snyder’s gubernatorial tenure.)
Although MCFN is non-partisan, and does not endorse candidates, Robinson revisited those details from 2010 because he, along with various media outlets, were at the time hopeful for real reform out of the self-described nerd — a notion of which the public has since been thoroughly disabused.
A short list of Snyder offenses against campaign promise #3:
SECRET NERD FUND Within weeks of setting-up shop in Lansing, Gov. Snyder launched his secretive 501(c)(4) and proceeded to collect a tidy $2 million in undisclosed dark money, out of which he paid a key advisor Rich Baird, and beefed-up his personal security, including at his residence. At that time, the governor was feeling twitchy about the negative public response to his enhanced emergency manager law. Protests followed him across the state, and to the gates of his exclusive guarded community. He had special security flanking him at public events.
SIGNED RIGHT-TO-WORK A couple of years ago the Detroit Free Press walked-back their shining endorsement with a scathing opinion piece after the Right-to-Work switcheroo pulled by the Snyder administration. He told press it wasn’t on his radar, then signed the law claiming unions had it coming, as if he had no choice.
NO PERSONAL FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE Calls for personal financial disclosure came after the furniture-gate scandal in which the Governor’s cousin, George Snyder was found to be personally profiting from his connection with Haworth furniture whose state contract topped $22 million. House Democrat’s calls for disclosure fell on deaf ears.
BLOCKED JUDICIAL CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM Echoing Snyder’s campaign promise, the State Bar of Michigan expressed grave concern over dark money issue ads influencing judicial races. They petitioned Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to act to correct the problem. She proposed a solution that would require full disclosure of who was behind these ads, but GOP lawmakers quickly intervened with legislation to prevent transparency with a bill that Snyder eagerly signed.
Democracy Tree would add to Robinson’s list the secret “Skunk works” education committee as another example of the utter lack of transparency found in the Snyder administration. Initially, the governor denied knowledge of the secret group, but a subsequent freedom of information act request revealed his special advisor Rich Baird (paid for out of the NERD fund) was a key stakeholder in the operation. The Detroit News reported:
Records show the group was born during a mid-September lunch meeting between state Chief Information Officer David Behen, Snyder adviser Rich Baird and Richard McLellan, a GOP attorney who was separately studying ways to rewrite school funding laws at Snyder’s behest.
Savvy editorial boards won’t be wooed by his come-ons this time around, one would hope.
Amy Kerr Hardin