In a Mother Jones article published today, the writer speculated whether the scandal surrounding Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin could splash over to other Midwestern Republican governors elected in 2010. Snyder’s NERD fund is mentioned with the suggestion that the secret donor fund was actually a “pay to play” scheme for corporations to get kickbacks from Snyder in return for making donations. What was the real purpose of the NERD fund, which no longer exists even though a few employees who once benefited from it are now on the state payroll?
The NERD fund never disclosed donors. CVS Pharmacy’s parent company Caremark’s donation did become public but insists it had nothing to do with the $60 million pharmacy contract received from Kevyn Orr, who also was compensated through the fund with a lavish condominium in a Detroit Hotel. Kevyn Orr, state taxpayers discovered, was vetted by a man named Richard Baird, who had an office next door to Rick Snyder’s and a .gov email address, but wasn’t until after the NERD fund’s demise put on the state payroll. His salary also came from the NERD fund.
The original purpose of the NERD fund was to supplement the salaries of people Snyder wanted to hire at market rates as an incentive to work for him in Lansing. People accustomed to receiving a certain salary don’t care much for taking a pay cut. What do you do if you’re a governor who wants to hire specific people, but paying them the salary they’re used to receiving from public funds would make the taxpayers of the state of Michigan completely flip out? Set up a private anonymous donor fund and offer those people public sector jobs at private sector pay. That way you can at least have the veneer of ‘shared sacrifice’ that you promised when you became governor.
Richard Baird did the Governor’s dirty work behind the scenes so Snyder wouldn’t have to do it in public. Kevyn Orr became EM of Detroit for a paltry six figure sum, but saving Detroit as far as Orr is concerned is charity work. Orr had a luxury condo paid for from the NERD fund. He was hardly ever in it because he was in Baltimore most of the time while his kids were on summer vacation from school.
And when Snyder raised the salaries as high as 90% for two senior state treasury directors in November of 2013, was this done because the month before the governor had dissolved the NERD fund and that was how much extra those two treasury directors were getting paid from it? All we have unfortunately is speculation. The fund is gone and Snyder says he will never divulge the names of the donors, because even he never knew who they were. It would be interesting to discover if Snyder knew who the beneficiaries were.