Info from Snyder’s NERD Fund just leads to more questions

If you’ve been waiting for Gov. Rick Snyder to release the names of donors to his clandestine nonprofit – well, get used to disappointment.

Snyder’s New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify Fund (NERD) has released its second required tax filing, but this year’s documents don’t shed any further light on the activities of the nonprofit.

This kind of nonprofit – a 501(c)(4) – isn’t required to release donors’ names, but for a governor who has insisted on transparency in state and local government, that’s a jarring omission.

The nonprofit’s organizational statement is so loosely worded that money donated to NERD could probably be used for almost anything, as long as there’s a slight connection to “promoting the common good and general welfare of residents of, and visitors to, the State of Michigan,” as the tax filing says.

The fund was well-stocked in 2011, its first year of operation, taking in some $1.3 million in contributions. Donations dropped sharply this year, to about $368,000, despite the addition of a fund-raiser. Detroit-based Prues-Hecker LLC, was paid $30,000 to solicit money for NERD.

Earlier this year, Snyder told the Free Press that releasing the names of past donors was a nonstarter because those donors gave with the expectation of privacy. There was a chance, however, that future donors could be named.

Apparently, not a very good chance – though Snyder’s team will surely say that this report, which describes donations made in 2012, predates Snyder’s notion of publicizing donors. Snyder’s team has never addressed the possibility of asking previous donors for permission to release their names.

This filing does shed a tad more light on NERD’s expenses, detailing $12,153 in equipment to “lessen the financial burden of government on the State of Michigan”; $411,917 to “promote charitable causes including lessening the financial burdens of government in the State of Michigan”; $28,448 to “support programs aimed at improvingMichigan’s business climate and employment opportunities”; $124,168 for management, and $173,630 for travel.

Snyder administration officials told Free Press reporter Paul Egan last week that the fund still pays the salary of Rich Baird, a top Snyder adviser who has played a key role in some of the state’s most controversial policies and decisions. Baird’s title is “transformation manager.”

He was Snyder’s point man on the hiring of Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr, was involved in the controversial “skunk works” school reform project, and the development of the Educational Achievement Authority, a new district for the state’s lowest-performing schools.

Though Baird is paid by NERD through a contract with his consulting firm, MI Partners LLC (the firm’s sole client is Snyder), he’s got an office in the governor’s suite and is listed on the state organizational chart. But from NERD’s tax filing, you’d never know Baird exists – his compensation is lumped into the management category.

It’s all needlessly stealthy. It smacks of hypocrisy. We expect more, and better, from Snyder.