Public Salary Database Puts Political Work of State Employee Under Scrutiny
A line item in the database of state legislative employee names and salaries posted by MichCapCon.com on July 21 has become the subject of a controversy over whether an employee of the Michigan House of Representatives has drawn or even should be drawing a political consulting salary and a taxpayer-financed legislative check at the same time.
On the Wednesday edition of the "Two Guys Named Joe" political podcast, the two pundits noted that Glenn Clark, chairman of Michigan's 9th congressional district Republicans, appears on MichCapCon.com's House salary listing with a $13,000 salary for working in the legislative office of state Rep. Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc. In addition to running for re-election to the Michigan House, Scott is also seeking the GOP nomination for Secretary of State. The "Joes," Democrat consultant Joe DiSano and Republican consultant Joe Munem, both declared Clark's paycheck from the taxpayers to be a "scandal" due to their assertion that Clark is also a paid consultant working to advance Scott's campaign for Secretary of State.
The claim that Clark is also paid for the political work is in dispute.
Just before the commentators' podcast aired, Scott released a statement confirming Clark's employment as a part-time staffer on his taxpayer-funded payroll:
"I am honored to announce that Glenn Clark has done outstanding work for my office and my constituents in his role as a part-time legislative assistant. I am proud of the work that Glenn is doing in helping me develop conservative issues in the state house such as opposing RFID and the personhood amendment."
Clark refused to comment when contacted for this story, so questions regarding additional sources of income on top of the $13,000 from the state could not be posed to him.
When asked by MichCapCon.com on Wednesday about the payroll status of Clark's work as a political consultant, both Scott and his Grand Rapids consulting firm, Strategic National Campaign Management, denied that Clark is paid money from them for political work on the Scott campaign. Scott acknowledged Clark's participation in his campaign, but stated that the help was strictly as a volunteer, without compensation.
However, another Strategic National client, Republican state Rep. Kim Meltzer of Macomb, told MichCapCon.com that she was of the understanding that Clark's assistance on her recent campaign for a Michigan Senate seat was a direct benefit of the $11,500 she paid in consulting fees to Strategic National through the first half of this year. Clark was often cited by media as a campaign spokesman for her.
Likewise, when asked in an exchange on Facebook about where the Meltzer for Senate campaign was getting its professional assistance from, Meltzer's legislative aide made a statement that strongly implied Clark was a paid consultant in some capacity: "Kim has Strategic National... but we contract out and have Glenn Clark."
Meltzer's campaign finance statements show no direct expenditures paid to Clark, leaving only her payments to Strategic National. But unlike Scott, Meltzer did not characterize Clark's help as being on a "volunteer" basis.
"She is mistaken," said John Yob, of Strategic National, when told of what Meltzer has said. Yob said it was he who provided the consulting work for Meltzer in exchange for the payments she made to his firm.
In addition to his help for Meltzer and Scott, Clark has also been noted by the media as a spokesman for the congressional campaign of Andrew "Rocky" Raczkowski, another Strategic National client. Federal Election Commission records show more than $16,000 in expenditures from the Raczkowski campaign to Strategic National since January. Combined with the Meltzer total and the $15,000 paid by the Scott campaign, records show that Strategic National has been paid more than $42,000 this year by campaigns where Clark appears to have been prominently involved.
Yob asserts that Strategic National did not pay Clark for his assistance to any of these campaigns. When asked about the coincidence of Clark giving what appears to be substantial help to three different Strategic National clients, Yob suggested that Clark would best be able to answer for that.
Empowering taxpayers to ask questions about these kinds of arrangements was the reason that MichCapCon.com made the listing of legislative staff names and salaries public. Under current law, the Michigan House and Senate are not required to release this information to the public. This special legal exemption from freedom of information laws does not apply to local units of government or the federal government, both of which are required to tell taxpayers the names and salaries of the public employees that work for them.
A privately run website, Legistorm.com, already puts the federal legislative staff information provided by Congress into a user-friendly, searchable database.
Despite no legal requirement to do so, for the last several years both the Michigan House and Senate have voluntarily surrendered hard copies of the name and salary data when asked for it. And both major party candidates for governor have recently stated that they are supportive of abolishing this special protection for state politicians and requiring their staffing information to be public and subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Theoretically, there is nothing inherently illegal about a legislative employee drawing a second income as a political operative, so long as the campaign work is strictly separated from the work of doing the official business of state government. But in practice, while some draw money from both sources, many find it difficult to prove beyond doubt to outside observers and media where the "official business" ends and the "political business" begins, particularly when the two services are done for the same politician.
Even when providing unpaid volunteer help during an election, many state employees who work directly for politicians, such as legislative staff, carefully restrict their help time to non-business hours, weekends and clearly reported vacation days so as to avoid even the appearance that they are doing election work during hours when they are collecting public pay for what should be public work.
For government employees taking even more active roles in campaigns, such as campaign managers and official spokespersons, it is common for them to leave their taxpayer-funded job entirely and explicitly switch over to the campaign's payroll. One recent example is conservative blogger Nick De Leeuw, who worked in the office of Attorney General Mike Cox and then resigned that job so as to take a campaign-paid position as the spokesman for Cox's gubernatorial quest.
"I was very careful about that," said De Leeuw, who asserts that he switched from a public to a political payroll as soon as he began making statements on behalf of Cox's gubernatorial campaign.
Being asked questions such as those being posed by the Two Guys Named Joe is precisely what people seek to avoid when they clearly mark out boundary dates to demonstrate when they have become a paid campaign professional and are no longer on a public payroll.
"Simultaneous work [getting both a public and political paycheck from the same politician] is an outright scandal," Munem reiterated when questioned by MichCapCon.com. "It makes it impossible to know when the person is on the clock doing taxpayer work or politician work."
Munem also stands by the initial allegation made on his podcast and believes that the arrangement Meltzer describes regarding Clark and her campaign consulting firm is closer to the truth.
"It is ridiculous to say that Glenn is some sort of 'multipurpose volunteer' for Strategic National."
In his email statement, Scott asserted that the raising of the salary issue regarding Clark is a political attack from rivals:
"The attacks on Glenn need to stop. Desperate career politicians who haven't done their leg work in this race are now taking this race into the gutter at the last second."
The GOP nomination for Secretary of State will be decided when Republican delegates vote on August 28.
Munem denies working with any of Scott's Republican rivals for the Secretary of State nomination. DiSano works almost exclusively for Democrat clients.
The author worked for five years as a legislative aide for former state Rep. Leon Drolet, one of Rep. Meltzer's rivals for the GOP nomination in the Michigan Senate contest referenced above. Neither politician won the race.
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.