Why did Dem donor get 20M?

Apparently, all it takes in Michigan to get $20 million of taxpayer money for your startup enterprise is a loosely sketched business plan and some really solid political connections.

Fay Beydoun hadn’t even filed the incorporation papers for her Global Link International nonprofit when the state Legislature handed her a $20 million appropriation in economic development money. Beydoun pitched her mission as attracting foreign businesses and entrepreneurs to Michigan.

Her nonprofit was just three days old when the money was awarded, with no staff other than herself and no office. The address given was for Beydoun’s home in Oakland County.

The grant award stinks to high heaven.

For starters, the paperwork Beydoun filed with the state contained few details about how she intends to lure investors, whom she intends to target, and how she’ll measure her success.

The grant lists former House Speaker Jason Wentworth, a Republican, as the sponsor. But Wentworth says although he talked with Beydoun, he decided not to prioritize her grant and didn’t put his name on the appropriation. And yet it passed under the pretense of his sponsorship. Both the governor’s office and Republican staffers say Wentworth was indeed the sponsor, despite his denial.

Beydoun has deep political connections. The head of the Arab American Chamber of Commerce, is a regular donor to Democrats, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who appointed her to the Commission on Middle Eastern American Affairs and to the Michigan Economic Development Commission, where she sits on the executive committee.

It is the MEDC that will administer the grant Beydoun received, but apparently neither the agency, the governor nor the Legislature saw that as a conflict of interest.

The Legislature and governor also apparently didn’t consider proposals from other organizations with perhaps more experience in the business attraction field.

The grant just came to light, but it was awarded last summer when lawmakers were rapidly divvying up more than $1 billion in pork barrel spending enabled by the massive flood of federal COVID dollars into the state.

The money for pet projects was largely parceled out in shadowy, bipartisan meetings outside the public eye. As with the Beydoun funding, in many cases the sponsors whose names were attached to appropriations claim no knowledge of the awards.

This is what happens when a Legislature suddenly finds itself with more money than it knows what to do with and is unencumbered by transparency and accountability rules.

Even in a $76 billion budget, $20 million is a lot of money. It shouldn’t be handed out like Halloween candy to anyone who opens a bag.

Taxpayers should know why Beydoun and the other pork recipients got their money, and precisely how they intend to spend it. Any connections the beneficiaries of the grants have to lawmakers or the governor should be fully disclosed.

And in the case of Beydoun’s grant, an explanation is warranted about why the money was awarded to a new nonprofit, rather than to, say, the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, which also helps develop entrepreneurship.

All of that information should have been made public before the appropriation vote, and not trickled out months after the money has been given away.

In a matter of days, and with no debate or demonstration of need, the Legislature sent $1 billion out the door to 140 projects, many of them with some sort of political connection.

Meanwhile, Lansing still can’t come up with enough money to fix all of Michigan’s lousy roads or to assure all its third graders are proficient in reading.

— Detroit News


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