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Wednesday, February 12,2014

They give; he spends

A look at Mayor Virg Bernero’s shopping habits, as shown through recent filings of his 527 account

by Andy Balaskovitz
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s choice spot for Thai food is Thai Village on Washington Square downtown. If he’s hungry for meat and potatoes fare, that’d be Restaurant Mediterran, across the street. If he’s looking for flowers in Detroit, odds are he’ll see Fortino’s on South Telegraph in Pontiac. The Biggby on West Allegan Street downtown is his coffee shop. He spent $191 at a popcorn shop in Old Town in the month of July.

No, Bernero isn’t being tracked by NSA (well, maybe he is). But this look at his shopping habits is gleaned from the latest financial statement of his “City Administrative Account,” commonly known as a 527 account. It’s named after the IRS tax code provision that allows political entities to have an organization into which unlimited donations can be given.

In 2013, Bernero raised $27,100 in contributions, most of which came from the Christman Political Action Committee and the Michigan Manufacturers Association. Each gave $5,000. Other donors last year include the Michigan Chamber of Commerce ($1,000); Neogen Corp. CEO James Herbert ($1,000); and developers Pat Gillespie, Leo Jerome, Eyde Central Development and Red Cedar Investment, which gave a total of $4,800.

On the other side of the ledger, Bernero spent $31,792 from the account in 2013. The majority of that was on food ($6,979), events and entertainment ($6,995) and travel ($6,452). The report shows hotel expenditures in Park City, Utah, in August at Hotel Park City (“where modern luxury meets the charm of an old world ski resort,” according to its website) and Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in late June.

The expenditures range from insignificant ($6 at a Taco Bell in Detroit) to hefty ($1,485 for airline tickets from Delta). The account also covered $4,778 in expenses at the Country Club of Lansing and $4,501 worth of auto-related expenses (insurance, gas and leases).

The account was also used for charitable purposes, showing Bernero donated $3,180 to 14 different organizations, including the NAACP ($800), Black Child and Family Institute ($100), Care Free Medical ($100), Greater Lansing Clergy Forum ($1,000) and the Wisconsin-based Alliance for Retired Americans ($150).

Bernero formed the account in 2005 to cover the costs of his inauguration. He has said the account is for “functions related to doing the job of mayor.” He could not be reached for comment.

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