Pfizer confirms $1,000 donation (which was later returned) to Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder's controversial NERD Fund



(source: Wikimedia Commons)

Metro Times has identified a second corporate donor who has backed a controversial nonprofit created by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

In 2013, pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. donated $1,000 to the governor's New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify Fund, better known as the NERD Fund. The donation was disclosed in a company document detailing Pfizer's political contributions last year.

Pfizer's voluntary disclosure makes it only the second publicly-revealed donor of the nonprofit. Last fall, Snyder said he would dissolve the fund just weeks after the Center for Public Integrity reported CVS Caremark Corp. had lent support in March of 2012. The nonprofit drew heavy criticism for not disclosing donors because it covered some of Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr's housing and travel costs, as well as foot the salary of Rich Baird, an old friend and aide of Snyder's who played a role in Orr's appointment.

After announcing the dissolution of the fund, the governor's office said Baird would join the government's payroll as an appointed "transformation manager" with a $140,000-a-year salary.

Representatives from the NERD Fund and Pfizer could not be immediately reached for comment. Pfizer states in the company document its PAC is nonpartisan and, "true to its ... values, Pfizer PAC is committed to support candidates from both political parties who share Pfizer's vision and values for healthcare." According to records filed with the Federal Elections Commission, Pfizer's PAC donated $1,011,950 in 2013 to federal candidates and other political committees. The company didn't contribute to the NERD Fund in 2011 and 2012, according to Pfizer documents.

As a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" nonprofit, the NERD Fund was not legally obligated to disclose its donors and could accept unlimited donations. Last year, scrutiny of the fund intensified after state Rep. Thomas Stallworth III (D-Detroit) contended CVS Caremark received a $60 million no-bid contract from Orr. The city contract, which was actually approved in a competitive bid process in 2012 by then-Mayor Dave Bing and Detroit City Council, was later modified after Orr's appointment, Ann Arbor-based Eclectablog reported.

“[Orr's team was] trying to pull that together and roll it out to save money and avoid as many benefit cuts as they could,” [Stallworth] told [Eclectablog]. “During that process, they were adjusting benefits which were modified from the original contract. I learned about this from the lieutenants and sergeants in the police department. They told me that ScriptGuide had offered a proposal that would save a lot of money and had less cuts to the coverage.”

This modification of the original contract, Stallworth contends, essentially restarted the bidding process, such as it was. However, according to [the Lansing-based MIRS News service], ScriptGuideRX was never given an opportunity. 

Harvey Day, the president of Grosse Pointe Park-based ScriptGuide, told MIRS he was "100 percent confident" the $12 million in savings he offered the city was "real."

Orr's spokesman Bill Nowling fired back in the Nov. 1 article, saying Day "promised big savings, but couldn't back it up. Period."

"We already got a contract in place," Nowling told MIRS. "We are not going to tear it up just because someone 'says' they can save more. They have to be able to demonstrate it."

In 2012, the NERD fund raised $368,000, according to filings with the Internal Revenue Service. The previous year, it raised $1.31 million. Snyder's administration has previously defended the fund as a tool to offset the costs of some government expenses. It's unclear if the fund has officially been dissolved yet, which the Freep previously reported can't take place until after its 2013 IRS report is filed.

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