Bernero sends a message
August 31, 2014
Deb Nolan, chairperson of the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, did something to anger Lansing mayor Virg Bernero. As a result, he supported her opponent in the Democratic primary this year. He personally passed out literature outside a polling place and he is suspected of being behind a group that paid for two anti-Nolan mailers earlier in the campaign. All this is from an August 27 City Pulse story which also said that since there was no statement on the literature identifying who paid for it, campaign finance law may have been violated.
Despite Benero's efforts, Nolan won by a wide margin. Still, Bernero made his point. He is the big dog in Lansing, and anyone who dares to oppose him is asking for trouble. Toe the line, or he'll be coming after you. He could have sent one of his minions to pass out that literature, but no - he showed up in person. To attract media attention, he stood in the area near the polling place where soliciting is prohibited by law. He wanted to make sure everyone got the message: if you cross Virg Bernero, you might wake up in the morning next to a severed horse head.
The City Pulse says the dispute with Nolan was about the retirement funds the City had to transfer to the county for the consolidated 911 center. My source tells me it was because the county board of commissioners, which Nolan heads, refused Bernero's request to help pay for city parks. Neither seems serious enough to warrant a dirty campaign attack.
The City Pulse says county clerk Barb Byrum is going to file a complaint with the state Bureau of Elections, but Bernero should be confident he can get away with it. Since 2006, he has collected over $333,000 for his 527 account and spent most of it on himself, yet the IRS does nothing. Last October, the City Pulse reported that a complaint had been filed with the Secretary of State alleging that the Bernero campaign had made illegal, back door contributions to the campaign of city council candidate Kathie Dunbar. The complaint was dismissed in March of this year.
In June of 2013, Bernero made unusually large payments to campaign workers Chris Breznau and Elizabeth Hart. This is from the expenditure section of Bernero's pre-primary report:
The following list of payments to Breznau and Hart during the 2013 campaign shows that these payments were indeed out of the ordinary:
Three days after receiving the payments, each contributed $1000 to the Dunbar campaign. This is from Dunbar's report:
What apparently wasn't known to the person who filed the complaint was that they also contributed $500 each to Jessica Yorko and Tina Houghton, two other city council candidates favored by Bernero. This is from Yorko's report:
And this is from Houghton's report:
So within 5 days of receiving an unusually large paycheck, each contributed $2,000 to city council candidates. Breznau was earning about $2,400 a month and Hart was earning about $1,500 a month, so it is unlikely they made those contributions voluntarily.
Section 44 of the
Michigan Campaign Finance Act clearly prohibits making a
contribution through another person:
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, I got all the documents related to the complaint. Bernero's response to the complaint, prepared by attorney Michael Hodge of Miller Canfield, makes these points:
The complaint was dismissed because Breznau and Hart signed affidavits saying they were not instructed or directed by Bernero or the Bernero campaign to make those contributions. With no evidence to the contrary, the Bureau of Elections was forced to dismiss. Bernero dodged the bullet and Breznau and Hart can look forward to successful careers in politics.
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