Michigan House Republicans
Aragona: Give bounties to reporters who expose corruption
RELEASE|May 24, 2024

A Whitmer appointee spent $4,500 of taxpayer money to buy a coffeemaker after getting a $20 million grant from the state to start a business accelerator.

This wasn’t some industrial coffee machine. It was a high-end Jura coffeemaker with optional cup warmer and milk cooler available to the home consumer at Williams Sonoma.

She also spent $11,000 on a first-class plane ticket to Europe, more than $40,000 on furniture, and $408,000 for three months of salary for just herself and one employee. 

The spending wasn’t caught by internal financial controls. The only reason we know about it is because of reporting by The Detroit News.

Attorney General Dana Nessel has now opened an investigation, and the House and Senate both voted to pull the remaining funding.

This whole situation gives me an idea: Michigan should offer bounties to reporters and news organizations that save taxpayers money by exposing corruption.

Local journalism is dying, which is bad because we need an informed population, and because we need independent watchdogs keeping an eye on what the government is doing.

Some on the left think the government should fund the news. That’s not surprising considering NPR, which receives public funding, has a ratio of 87 Democrats to zero Republicans in the newsroom, according to a top NPR editor. Offering bounties is a better idea because it would maintain newsroom independence and it would give reporters an incentive to save taxpayers money.

In this case, if the state claws back the unspent portion of the $10 million that has already been disbursed and terminates the rest of the grant, taxpayers could save approximately $19 million. Ten percent of that ($1.9 million) should go to The Detroit News and the reporters who have been covering this scandal.

The federal government offers rewards to whistleblowers. Silicon Valley uses bug bounties because it’s much cheaper to find vulnerabilities before they are exploited. The same principle applies here.

There are some practical issues to work out, such as how to decide who gets the bounty, because consequential stories usually break in phases with many contributors building on previous reporting.

In this specific case, The Detroit News has been covering the story for years. Going back to when the budget was approved in 2022, The Detroit News has published more than a dozen stories and editorials bringing attention to the issue and adding new details, such as that Nessel’s investigation was prompted by a referral from the FBI.

There are still a lot of questions about why the money was given out in the first place. The deal was negotiated in secret by a now-former Republican lawmaker and Gov. Whitmer, and the organization that received funding didn’t even exist at the time the money for it was put in the budget.

Gov. Whitmer herself has not yet explained why she signed off on the inclusion of $20 million in the budget for her political appointee who was at the time serving on the Michigan Economic Development Corporation board. The MEDC is the organization that is supposed to oversee these grants; that’s an obvious conflict of interest.

I cannot say what happened because I wasn’t serving in office then, but if we offered a bounty, more news organizations would have an incentive to press for answers.

Michigan House Republicans

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