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Thursday, October 24,2013

Questionable campaign contributions

Two of Bernero's campaign staffers make big donations to Dunbar, Yorko days after getting paid big for work on Bernero’s campaign

by Andy Balaskovitz
Christopher Breznau

Thursday, Oct. 24 — On a Friday in June, two of Mayor Virg Bernero’s campaign staffers were paid significantly more as contract workers than they had been previously for helping run his reelection.


By Tuesday the following week, campaign manager Christopher Breznau and staffer Elizabeth Hart donated $1,000 each and $500 each to the reelection campaigns of City Council members Kathie Dunbar and Jessica Yorko, respectively, county campaign finance records show.


In Dunbar’s campaign, only the UAW and Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce had contributed more. Several others donated $1,000 to her campaign, including Lansing Board of Water and Light General Manager J. Peter Lark, developer Pat Gillespie, auto dealer Leo Jerome and Jim Herbert, CEO and chairman of the board for Neogen Corp.


Dunbar and Yorko are part of a slate of candidates Bernero is supporting in the Nov. 5 General Election. The staff contributions are the subject of a Secretary of State’s Office investigation, which was started after a complaint alleged the staff may have broken state campaign finance laws, WLNS-TV first reported Wednesday.


Breznau, who ran unsuccessfully for state representative last year in Clare County, was paid $4,365.98 for campaign work between April 18 and May 31, records show. During that time, the highest single payment to him was $1,795 on May 31. Two weeks later on June 14, Breznau was paid $3,200. He has been paid $1,200 on two occasions since then.


Hart’s first payment for campaign work came on June 3 for $300. Eleven days later on June 14, she was paid $2,600. Since July 5, Hart has been paid $2,900, but not any more than $600 in one payment.


When Bernero’s campaign treasurer, Joe McDonald, was asked today why Breznau and Hart were paid so much more than before just days prior to donating to Dunbar’s and Yorko’s campaigns, he said: “Don’t know.”


McDonald is a longtime Bernero employee from before he became mayor. He is the community outreach coordinator in the Mayor’s Office.


According to state law, contributions can’t be made “with the agreement or arrangement that the person receiving the contribution will then transfer that contribution to a particular candidate committee.”


Original reports focused only on the donations to Dunbar’s campaign.


In an interview today, Bernero said the staffers were not directed to donate the funds to other campaigns. He said he is not closely aware of how staffers are paid, saying he “doesn’t cut the checks.” Dunbar said she first learned of the complaint this morning.


While Bernero said he will comply with any requests from the Secretary of State’s Office, and that he takes the allegations “seriously,” he also called the complaint “11th hour negative campaign tactics.”

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