THE BLOG
01/26/2016 04:18 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2017

Michigan Rep:Why Is Gov. Snyder Using Dark Money To Fund PR Spin?

Michigan State Rep. is concerned that Governor Rick Snyder is using dark money to hire two outside PR firms to spin the crisis in Flint. 

We were joined today on T & Z Talk by Michigan Democratic House leader Tim Greimel, who came on to discuss the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. In particular, to address Gov. Rick Snyder's hiring outside public relations firms using non-public funds.

Greimel wrote in a statement on Monday:

It is troubling the Snyder administration has decided to hire an outside political public relations firm -- with ties to his administration --  that will be focused on spin instead of solutions and funded by some unknown dark money source.

Greimel is referring to the two PR firms hired by Gov. Rick Snyder: Mercury Public Affairs of Washington, D.C., and Bill Nowling of Finn Partners, a New York firm with offices in Detroit.

What is both troubling and suspicious is that both firms have ties to the governor's office. Chief of Staff Jarrod Agen's wife has worked for Mercury and Nowling, now a senior partner at Finn, served as a spokesman for Snyder's 2010 campaign and worked as a press liaison for the former Detroit Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr. Mercury, for its part, bills itself as "a high-stakes public strategy firm."

As Greimel puts it in his statement, "It's another example of the lack of transparency and accountability that this administration has shown over the past several years." He goes on to call on the governor to restore people's faith in government by being transparent and by stopping his spin machine and "kicking his solution machine into high gear."

During his conversation with Tony Trupiano and I, Greimel seemed palpably frustrated, in the way that one might ideally expect an elected official to be in the face of a crisis of this magnitude.

This issue has really attracted national media attention, and with good reason. People are literally being poisoned. Children are literally suffering irreparable brain damage as a result of the actions and inaction of the governor's administration.

Greimel, for his part, says he wants to avoid this fiasco being politicized and adds:

"The most important thing is for us all to work together and try to solve this immediate humanitarian catastrophe."

Unlike his GOP counterparts, Greimel seems more concerned with fixing the issue than with how it looks - and it looks bad. But if you're listening to Jeb! Bush, Snyder is doing a great job. In a recent CNN interview, Jeb! said, "Instead of saying, 'The dog ate my homework, it's someone else's fault,' once it became clear, he's taking the lead now. That's exactly what I think leaders have to do."

I'm not sure how not turning in your homework compares with poisoning an entire city and then lying about it to their faces, but maybe in the Bush house when you break a window while playing baseball in the house, you get praised for sweeping up the glass.

To complicate matters, Mercury LLC is headquartered in Washington D.C. The firm touts 17 American offices, but none of them are located in Michigan. Is there a reason Snyder couldn't hire a firm located in Michigan? Even more questionable, the Detroit Free Press uncovered the tie to Agen's wife. Turns out that Bettina Inclan-Agen is a senior vice president at Mercury's Fort Lauderdale office.

Both Aglen and press secretary Dave Murray brushed off questions pertaining to why Snyder is using a public relations firm with such close ties to the governor's staff.

They also managed to evade questions about how Mercury and Nowling are being paid. Murray only said that state money is not being used. Snyder may be paying them out of one or more non-public accounts that he controls or to which he has access, mostly seeded with corporate money.

When Greimel was asked about the governor having hired an outside PR firm and how it was being paid for, he said:

It ties into the discussions about dark money. And with Michigan's lack of disclosure requirements, there are all sorts of dark money funds that can be set up where it's not disclosed who is contributing to them, it's not disclosed what they're spending money on, and apparently it's one of these dark money funds like the infamous "Nerd Fund" that's paying for this public relations consultant.

The decision, Greimel said, to hire two public relations consultants at a time when there are dire humanitarian needs in Flint is a real "head scratcher."

The governor could be using that money to help the people in Flint; and instead, he's using it to hire spin doctors to help cover his rear end.

Even if the governor is to be believed that he didn't know about the situation until late September/early October, why did he wait over three months to declare an emergency there? And why is the emergency manager who is at the center of this terribly implemented decision to use Flint River water still to this day the emergency manager of the Detroit public school system?

The bulk of the decisions coming from emergency managers are driven by this pervasive ideology of privatization at any cost and the notion that the private sector always is best and that the government can't do anything right. And it's that ideology more than anything else that drives these terrible decisions.

We keep seeing familiar patterns when it comes to GOP governance. That even when it costs more to outsource, they still choose to outsource and privatize. Private companies aren't in the business of caring about people, and government needs to stop handing over precious resources and basic human rights, like clean water, to corporations in the name of Capitalism.

You can listen to the entire podcast here and subscribe to the show updates here.