Nonprofit tied to Lansing’s new diversity consultant launches promotional campaign

Coincidence, say Schor and the new nonprofit’s organizer

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WEDNESDAY, Aug. 5 — A nonprofit “social welfare” organization that carries a name similar to Mayor Andy Schor’s signature campaign slogan has been launched to promote the city of Lansing.

Lansing NOW, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit established earlier this year, is designed exclusively to highlight and promote economic development in the city and to “educate citizens” on the progress that Lansing has made in becoming a “leading Midwest capital city,” state filings show.

The nonprofit is run by political consulting firm Vanguard Public Affairs and registered to TJ Bucholz, its CEO and appointed board member at Downtown Lansing Inc. It launched online just days after Schor’s administration hired Teresa Bingman, a senior consultant at Vanguard, to help orchestrate new racial justice and equity plans for the city of Lansing. The city is paying $63,000.

But despite the campaign’s exclusive focus on promoting the city of Lansing, its eerie similarity to Schor’s “Lansing’s Time is Now” catchphrase and the timing of Bingman’s newfound city employment, both Schor and Bucholz maintain that its formation is simply a happy coincidence.

“I’ve been talking about doing a pro-Lansing campaign on my own for months,” Bucholz said.

Bucholz and Schor said the new promotional effort is not tied to or funded by the city. Instead, it’s simply a “personal endeavor” Bucholz launched to showcase his “Lansing pride,” he said.

Lansing NOW made its first public appearance on Facebook on July 22, highlighting the installation of a George Floyd portrait along the Lansing River Trail. The following morning, Bingman announced the formation of the mayor’s new Racial Justice and Equity Alliance.

The timing is happenstance, Bucholz said. “They aren’t related at all,” he explained today.

Other recent posts highlighted black-owned businesses in Lansing, described the history of the capital city and linked to pages on the city’s website. The page only had five followers today. Schor said Bucholz told him about the campaign in passing, but he didn’t know much about it.

“It’s certainly not something the city is paying for or involved with in any way,” Schor added.

Bucholz, who lives in Grand Ledge and works in downtown Lansing, said the idea for Lansing NOW formed while he was on a stroll downtown and was randomly inspired to promote the city. His firm was taking promotional shots for the new initiative this week in a borrowed Camaro.

The new promotional campaign — which Bucholz said operates with virtually no expenses —  could eventually expand to other cities like Grand Ledge and Williamston over the coming months. For now, it’s entirely focused on Lansing and promoting continued economic growth.

“We haven’t even really launched officially,” Bucholz said, noting the new Lansing NOW promotional campaign is still in its infancy. “I haven’t really talked to anyone about it publicly.”

Lansing NOW is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt social welfare organization, meaning it must not generate a profit and must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare. The IRS cites bringing about civic betterment and social improvements as examples.

The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. It can engage in “some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity,” according to federal law.

It can, however, solicit donations. And Bucholz said it intends to do so over the coming months.

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