Good riddance NERD Fund; the mess won’t be missed

The good news is that Gov. Rick Snyder has finally agreed to stop tapping anonymous donors to pay for government personnel and initiatives he was unable or unwilling to fund with taxpayer dollars.

The New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify Fund, which collected more than $1.6 million on Snyder’s behalf over three years but never disclosed where the money was coming from, will soon be no more.

The bad news is that Michigan voters may never learn who gave to NERD, which means Snyder continues to violate his pledge to run a transparent government.

Snyder has defended the NERD Fund since its establishment in 2011 as an innocent means of subsidizing government expenses for which he was unable to secure or unwilling to seek public funding.

Among other things, the fund has been tapped to defray housing and travel expenses for Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr and compensation for Snyder confidante Richard Baird, who assisted the governor’s numerous sensitive projects, including Orr’s recruitment.

Last week, after months of parrying questions about Baird’s role, Snyder’s office said he was placing Baird on the state payroll as his office’s $140,000-a-year transformation manager.

But the NERD Fund has been a source of continuing controversy because it can accept unlimited corporate donations without disclosing the identity of donors or their motives.

Snyder seemed to acknowledge that the fund’s critics had a point last month when he said he was exploring ways to make the fund’s financing more transparent going forward.

The fact that he apparently found it easier to shutter the fund than to secure permission to disclose its bankrollers’ names suggests the fund’s critics had ample reason to be suspicious of donors’ motives.

It seems Snyder is not alone in opting for such an account. The Free Press’ Paul Egan reported today that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer, who sharply criticized Snyder over the NERD Fund, had the same type of nonprofit fund, which accepted unlimited, undisclosed donations as a state legislator.

Schauer, who noted the fund collected $30,000 at most, said he is willing to disclose the fund’s details, but told Egan that he had only limited documentation about who donated, how much was spent and what the fund was used for.

Schauer’s lack of accountability since the origin of the fund should raise questions about his commitment to transparency and pulls the wind out of Schauer’s criticism of Snyder.

It was always a bad idea to run any government operation off the books; the public’s business is simply the public’s business.

We are encouraged that Snyder appears to have accepted this principle, however grudgingly.

But whatever pledges of anonymity he made to secure private financing for the NERD Fund, it is trumped by his obligations to Michigan voters.

As long as Snyder refuses to say who picked up the tab for the NERD Fund, or why, the state’s voters have every reason to question where their governor’s primary allegiance lies.