Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Governor Rick Snyder has unilaterally approved the expenditure of an additional $2.2 million in state taxpayer dollars to pay for the outside civil and criminal attorneys representing him in the Flint Water Crisis case.
In March, Snyder approved contracts in the amount of $800,00 with the Grand Rapids law firm of Warner, Norcross & Judd, and $400,000 with the Detroit law firm of Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker. He has now amended those contracts, raising the amounts to $2 million for Warner, Norcross & Judd, and $1.4 million for Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker.
Michigan's State Administrative Board is typically required to approve executive-branch contracts for outside services over $250,000. Under State Administrative Board Resolution 2011-1, however, the Board is not required to approve any contract that is requested directly by the Governor, regardless of the amount. Specifically, Resolution 2011-1 "[e]xcepts from Board approval contracts for materials and services approved by the Governor," allowing the Governor to unilaterally approve state contracts for his own private lawyers.
But as former Michigan Democratic Party Chairperson Mark Brewer pointed out on an Off the Record overtime segment this week, Snyder's unilateral approval of state contracts could create a conflict of interest. Article 4, § 10 of the Michigan Constitution and MCL 15.302 both provide that "[n]o . . . state officer shall be interested directly or indirectly in any contract with the state or any political subdivision thereof which shall cause a substantial conflict of interest." According to Michigan law, a state officer has a substantial conflict of interest when his interest in the contract is great enough to cause him "to promote the contract for his . . . own personal benefit." MCL 15.304(2). Did Snyder violate these provisions by unilaterally approving the state contracts in question to pay for his own outside legal representation? It seems to me that he might have.
The State Administrative Board could take a step toward fixing this problem by rescinding or amending Resolution 2011-1, ending the exemption from Board approval for contracts requested by the Governor. This would provide at least some degree of oversight, and would rein in the Governor's ability to unilaterally expend large sums of state money for outside services.