WKAR Features
2:31 pm
Mon October 12, 2009

Mayor's political fund draws criticism

Lansing, MI – The Director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network says a political fund set up by Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero could lead to accusations that the city has a "pay to play" system of awarding contracts. The City Administrative Account has collected about $200,000 since it was created when Bernero took office in 2006.

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According to IRS records, the City Administrative Account was created with deposits totaling nearly $40,000 on January 1, 2006, the day Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero took office. Since then, it has seen deposits totaling nearly $280,000, with contributions from some of the city's most prominent movers and shakers. But it's the contributions from businesses with city contracts that have Rich Robinson concerned. Robinson is the director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

"Most of the money, or a lot of the money has been raised from venders who do work with the city, developers who have gotten tax abatements from the city," Robinson says. "The dilemma here is that when you look at on paper, it doesn't look any different than a pay-to-play kind of situation."

The roster of contributors includes companies like the Accident Fund Insurance company, E.T. MacKenzie and the Granger group. Tetra Tech, which is leading the city's combined sewer overflow project, has given nearly $20,000. Robinson says he's not accusing the mayor of doing anything illegal. He says there are many politicians in the state with so-called "527" accounts. He says the rules regulating the 527 funds are much looser than for regular campaign accounts.

"These 527's in particular, the convenience is that you can take money from any source," Robinson says. "I think we've degenerated to a point where there is a kind of no-nickel-left-behind policy with a lot of office holders and politicians."

Close to $200,000 been spent out of the fund on everything from holiday parties to political consulting.

Multiple calls to Mayor Bernero's office seeking comment on this story were not returned. But the Lansing State Journal reports the mayor is calling the fund the kind of "public private partnership" the city needs to move forward.