Democrats assailed Gov. Snyder over secret donors, but won't release names of theirs either

LANSING (WXYZ) - State Democrats gave Governor Rick Snyder an earful about his secret "NERD Fund," but it turns out they have a few secrets of their own.

The Michigan Quality of Life Fund was funded back in 2001 by then State Rep. Kwame Kilpatrick "to promote the social welfare…of all Michigan citizens in the political and legislative process."

Kilpatrick left the fund the next year after being elected mayor, but it's been used by Democratic House leaders ever since. Today, its president is Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) and over the last 3 years on file, the fund has taken in more than $560,000 in donations.

Like Snyder, the fund refuses to name any of its donors. 

"This fund is just as secret as the Governor's, and I don't see anyone from your party offering to make it open, or anything other than a secret,"  7 Action News Investigator Ross Jones said to Rep. Dillon.

"Well as I've said, we are willing to look at our fund, the structure and the organization going forward...Our fund is used to educate the public about issues that are coming up with the legislature," Dillon said.

Democrats like Dillon were upset to learn that Snyder's donors were paying the $100,000 salary of key advisor Richard Baird and for the living expenses of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr at the Book-Cadillac hotel.

But the Democrats' fund has paid for similar expenses: between 2009 and 2011, it paid more than $180,000 in travel, lodging, meal and entertainment expenses. Dillon says there's no comparison.

"Paying for Kevyn Orr's housing expenses out of a fund that has contributors that could potentially benefit from his decisions at the Detroit bankruptcy is much different than us using our fund to go around the state with Democratic members and listen to constituents as part of a task force process," Dillon said.

Unlike campaign funds, donations to these non-profits are kept secret from the public.  Exactly how they're used is also kept hidden, which makes it easier for abuse to go unnoticed from the public, which Kilpatrick Wayne County CEO Bob Ficano have shown.

"It's very easy to abuse these funds. Would you agree?" Jones asked.

"I think if bad people are in place, in control of money, whether public or private, they can do things that are wrong.  There is absolutely no suggestion there is anything here that is wrong," Dillon responded.

Indeed, funds like these have only become more popular.  As we first reported Friday, Attorney General Bill Schuette's was founded only a week after he was elected.  He says his "On Duty for Michigan" fund was set up to pay for expenses that taxpayers would otherwise have to foot. Going forward, he's says he'll disclose the fund's donors.

The Future Michigan fund has worked closely with Senator Roger Kahn.  Last year, it took in more than $118,000 and spent about $22,000 on polling, phone calls and ads. When we went to talk to Senator Kahn at his office, his staff said his schedule was booked. His office declined to talk to 7 Action News about the fund, but said donors' names will not be released.

"If there's no controversy here, as is the case with all these funds, why don't you just show people how they're used?" Jones asked Dillon.

"As I said, we'll go back and make sure we have a robust review of our organizational structure and how we have presented ourselves in the past and how we'll present ourselves in the future," he said.

Contact 7 Action News Investigator Ross Jones at  rjones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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