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Gov. Snyder says non-profit fund, not state, will pay PR firm for help with Flint water crisis

Jan 26, 2016

Credit michigan.gov

Some Democrats are upset that Gov. Snyder hired this new PR firm. They say Flint’s water problems are a public health crisis not a PR one.

“The governor should not be wasting time hiring PR firms to make over his image,” state Democratic Party Chairman, Brandon Dillon said in a conference call with reporters this afternoon.

“He needs to just stop dragging his feet and start applying the Freedom of Information Act to the executive office and coming clean about what happened in Flint,” Dillon said.

“Gov. Snyder already has taken the unprecedented step of releasing all if his personal emails regarding Flint water from the years 2014 and 2015 to address any questions about transparency and decision-making,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray wrote in an email.

The Governor’s office no longer provides recorded interviews to Michigan Radio. In the email statement, Murray said a non-profit group called Moving Michigan Forward will pay the PR firm. He says the fund is helping increase awareness of resources available to Flint residents.

“Gov. Snyder is committed to making sure the people of Flint get clean, safe water they need immediately as well as protecting their health and welfare now and long into the future. Every resource is being brought to bear on helping Flint, and that includes the additional communication help we've brought in. Everyone is focused on Flint and helping its residents,” Murray said.

“The communications firms will be paid through the Moving Michigan Forward fund. The fund posts its donations and expenses quarterly on its website, http://www.movingmiforward.com. No state money is involved,” he said.

It’s not clear how much or for how long the contract runs.

Once known as the NERD Fund, Moving Michigan Forward has been controversial because its donors are difficult to track.

According to the fund's website, the biggest donor to that non-profit fund in 2015 was another non-profit group, “Celebrating the Power of Michigan.” That second group was originally created to help pay for Snyder’s two inaugural celebrations, according to documents and Snyder’s former press secretary Sara Wurfel.  

The new PR firm, Mercury LLC, is a self-described “high-stakes public strategy firm” that uses “strategic intelligence to mobilize the message and persuade the toughest audiences.”

The firm has ties to Snyder’s chief of staff, Jarrod Agen. His wife, Bettina Inclán-Agen, is listed as a Mercury Senior VP.