Democrats claim Snyder administration shielded cousin’s furniture company from state budget cut

The Michigan Democratic Party claims that Governor Rick Snyder’s administration stepped in to protect a furniture company owned by Snyder’s cousin from a 2011 state budget cut., the Detroit Free Press and other media outlets in the Lower Peninsula and elsewhere are claiming that Rich Baird, one of the governor’s top advisers, connected George Snyder, the governor’s cousin, with state Budget Director John Nixon through e-mail.

Baird’s and George Snyder’s e-mail exchange took place shortly after the Michigan House passed a budget bill that would have capped state spending on new office furniture at $1 million per year. George Snyder owns DBI Office Interiors of Lansing. DBI is a furniture dealer for Haworth Inc. of Holland, which at the time had a $19.2 million contract as the state’s exclusive provider of new office furniture.

The Michigan Democratic Party says it obtained copies of e-mails through a Freedom of Information Act request. The party claims that at one point, the governor’s cousin wrote to Baird, “We are very upset and nervous about the language in the Senate budget bill on furniture, any advise on who I can discuss this with”. According to MLive, Baird wrote back less than 20 minutes later, “John Nixon’s people are on this. Sit tight.” Nixon himself wrote to George Snyder about an hour after that, saying, “We are on it.”

The legislature later approved a compromise budget bill in which the $1 million spending cap on new office furniture was removed. A requirement was inserted instead that the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget first look into existing furniture that could be reused or refurbished before buying new furniture. The governor signed that compromise bill into law.

The Michigan Democratic Party has asked a federal prosecutor to investigate, claiming that the bill was only changed because the governor’s cousin was concerned that the measure would harm his business. A spokeswoman for Governor Snyder says the administration would have done the same thing for any resident concerned about a Michigan issue, saying that the Democrats’ accusation has no merit.

A spokesman for the Department of Technology, Management and Budget has said that the spending cap language was removed in order to avoid giving one furniture contractor an advantage over another, adding that the furniture contracts were competitively bid.

The e-mail exchange that the Michigan Democratic Party has been referring to can be found here.