Secret governance? Michigan governor, top lawmakers sign NDA for $1 billion biz program

"She's going against what she campaigned on," said Tudor Dixon, a leading GOP candidate for Michigan governor.
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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
(Jeff Kowalsky/Getty Images)

Often at the center of controversy, Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is facing transparency questions, along with leading state Republican lawmakers, after they signed nondisclosure agreements preventing them from informing taxpayers about a pricey new economic development initiative.

Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, and House Speaker Jason Wentworth all signed the NDA with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation regarding a $1 billion business incentive program that became law last week, The Detroit News reported.

On Wednesday, the governor said she was "covered" by the agreement signed on behalf of the administration, being one of the few who "had to be aware of some of the details" regarding possible business interests in the incentive bill.

"There's a lot of proprietary information that is shared as states are vying for the opportunity to draw this kind of potential massive investment and future critical economic manufacturing opportunities into our states. That information is not going to be shared with anyone who doesn't do that," Whitmer said.

She explained that the details of the program will be made available in the future.

"Ultimately, all the terms will be aired as decisions are made at the Strategic Fund, but in the initial stages that confidentiality is important," Whitmer added. "They're never going to engage with us if we don't participate on those terms."

Shirkey and Wentworth signed nondisclosure agreements as the business incentive package was being developed, according to their spokespeople, the news outlet reported.

Gideon D'Assandro, a spokesman for Wentworth, said, "The administration's team required that to be in the room for the negotiations."

Tudor Dixon, a leading GOP candidate for Michigan governor, told Just the News that Whitmer had campaigned "on being the most transparent governor in Michigan."

"She's going against what she campaigned on," Dixon said.

She also noted that the governor is exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests, and Whitmer has previously said she would end the exemption. Despite being in office for nearly three years, Whitmer has yet to do so.

Dixon added that Whitmer is "buying business" instead of fixing the foundational issues of the state, namely education and the workforce.

Without having educated workers or a workforce, there's no point in buying business, Dixon said.

Michigan residents "deserve to know what their money is going towards,” she added.

Tom Fitton, President of Judicial Watch, told Just the News that the signing of the NDAs "highlights how improper government secrecy is nonpartisan — both parties support it too often.

"They don't want the machinations of countless numbers of dollars spent being exposed to the public eye," he said. "That type of secrecy presents almost irresistible opportunities for corruption."

The offices of Whitmer, Shirkey, and Wentworth didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

The business incentive bill that Whitmer signed into law last week included $1 billion for economic development incentives and $409 million for business COVID assistance, The Detroit News reported.

A potential new battery plant in Michigan for General Motors Co. was a target of the incentive bill.

The Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve Fund was created for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity in a package of bills enacted along with the $1 billion appropriation.

The money will eventually be put into the SOAR Fund, which will then only be able to move to the Michigan Strategic Site Readiness Fund and the Critical Industry Fund with lawmaker approval.

The Michigan Strategic Site Readiness Fund is for activities that relate to "strategic sites" and "mega-strategic sites," according to the news outlet.

The purpose of the Critical Industry Fund is to provide investments to "qualified businesses for deal-closing, gap financing or other economic assistance to create new qualified jobs or make capital investments."