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Wednesday, January 13,2010

PAC man

Two campaign contributions to Mayor Virg Bernero are from unregistered PACs

by Neal McNamara

 

Two political action committees that contributed $1,000 to Mayor Virg Bernero’s campaign coffers in 2009 were not registered with the state Secretary of State’s office, according to state records.

The PSI PAC and the Dickinson Wright PAC both donated to Bernero’s coffers this year. PSI, which stands for Professional Service Industries, and is a national engineering firm with an office in Lansing, donated $1,000 to Bernero’s campaign on Nov. 2. Dickinson Wright, a Detroit law firm with offices in Lansing, gave $1,000 on Sept. 9.


According to state campaign finance law, a organization that wishes to make contributions as a PAC must file a statement of organization no more than 10 days after it gives a donation of $500 or more.


Bernero aide Joe McDonald, who was treasurer of Bernero’s campaign, offered explanations for both donations. With the PSI PAC contribution, he said after reviewing the check, he determined that the money came from an out of state committee and that a campaign worker wrote down that it came from a PAC with a local address. McDonald said that campaign would return that $1,000.


He said he believed that a campaign worker marked the Dickinson Wright contribution down wrong as coming from Dickinson Wright PAC when it came from several lawers at Dickinson Wright PLLC, which stands for Professional Limited Liability Company.


Secretary of State spokeswoman Kelly Chesney said that there was no record of either a PSI PAC or a Dickinson Wright PAC in the state records. A PSI company spokesman, Executive Vice President Tom Boogher, did not return a call seeking comment. A call to the office of Dickinson Wright in Bloomfield Hills — where the supposed PAC was registered — seeking comment about the firm’s PAC was not returned.


The Secretary of State’s office does not check on whether PACs donating to local races are registered. She said it would be the job of the Ingham County clerk.


Ingham County Clerk Mike Bryanton was unaware of the unregistered PACs. Bryanton said that his office checks over candidates’ campaign finance reports to make sure all contributions add up and that no contributions were over the limit. He said that his office is not staffed to check the validity of each donor to a campaign.


“We have to take candidates at their word unless someone looks (at the campaign finance report) and brings a problem to someone’s attention,” Bryanton said.


Bryanton said Tuesday he had spoken to McDonald regarding the PACs and will send Bernero’s campaign an errors and omissions report, which gives Bernero’s campaign nine days to find out what went wrong with the two PAC donations.


Bryanton said that when a campaign finance report complaint is brought to his office, he usually recommends that the person register a complaint with the state. The Secretary of State’s office maintains a process for campaign finance violations.


“We’re not the police,” Bryanton said. “I have no real authority to do any kind of investigation, that’s why when people call with an allegation, we direct them to rules and compliance for the secretary of state,” referring to a department within that office.


A check of the campaign finance statements of other candidates who ran for city office in Lansing in 2009, including mayoral candidate Carol Wood and Council candidates Tina Houghton, Kathie Dunbar, Jessica Yorko, Brian Jeffries and City Clerk Chris Swope, turned up no donations from any unregistered PACs.


Bernero was by far the largest fundraiser in the area last year. According to the campaign finance report submitted to Ingham County prior to the Nov. 3 election, Bernero had raised $80,000 between Aug. 25 and Oct. 19, and for the four years leading up to November had raised a total of $357,352.

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