PAC flak

News Hits would like to throw some props in the direction of MT reporter Nancy Kaffer, who began raising questions about the Vision 05 PAC a little more than a month ago, and kept the queries coming until state officials took action against the political action committee that illegally donated more than $20,000 to the campaign of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick .

Vision 05 was founded in 2004 by Detroit cop Todd Bettison, who was promoted to commander Sept. 1, and may be every bit as good a cop as he says he is.

But he has an obvious problem with paperwork.

The PAC started collecting money about three months before notifying the state that it had actually formed, and then waited more then a year before filing any finance reports. Those are supposed to be submitted every four months so the public, in theory anyhow, can keep track of who’s putting money into a PAC and who’s getting that cash. Truth is, Vision 05 was not complying with any of the state’s rules until Kaffer started investigating.

There are two types of PACs. So-called “independent” PACs must have at least 25 contributors and direct their money to three or more candidates. Such PACs, which Vision 05 claimed to be, can donate as much as $34,000 to individual campaigns. If a PAC fails to meet either of those two criteria, its donations are limited to $3,400 per candidate.

Vision 05 failed both tests required of an independent PAC. In 2005, it received contributions from only eight sources and gave money to only two candidates. In 2004, the PAC reported more than 100 donors, but only supported one candidate. The problem is, Vision 05 has given a total of $24,500 to Kilpatrick’s re-election campaign.

On Oct. 3, the Michigan Secretary of State’s office ordered the Kilpatrick campaign to return $21,100 to the PAC. The PAC, in turn, was told to give $8,750 back to four corporate contributors. What Vision 05 will do with the remaining 12 grand is anybody’s guess. Bettison, who was originally quite chatty but clammed up as soon as he realized the extent of the mess he was in, is no longer returning our calls.

Calls to Bob Berg, spokesman for the Kilpatrick campaign, likewise weren’t returned.

Another person ducking our queries is Detroit Police Commander Ralph Godbee Jr., whose home address is listed on the PAC’s original statement of organization filed with the state. An amended statement, filed after the MT began quizzing Bettison about the issue, no longer included the address. What role, if any, did Godbee play in establishing the PAC? We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve called him to ask, but are still waiting to hear what he has to say.

It’s not entirely surprising that Godbee’s name has surfaced in connection with a PAC directing funds to Kilpatrick. In July, the Detroit Free Press reported that Godbee was one of two deputy chiefs who called a meeting at which police commanders were asked to buy $300 tickets to a Kilpatrick fundraiser. The Detroit Police Command Officers’ Association protested the action, alleging that the cops were being coerced into providing financial support for the mayor.

There are still some unanswered questions, particularly concerning Pterodactyl Co., which, if it actually exists, seems to have taken the unusual course of using invisibility as a marketing technique. If it’s actually doing business around here, we couldn’t find it, and we looked pretty hard. Nonetheless, Pterodactyl donated $8,500 to the PAC, according to campaign finance reports.

A spokeswoman says the Secretary of State is still investigating Pterodactyl’s status. Another refund — or more fines — may be in the offing.

“It sounds like justice is being served, although the wheels of justice turn slowly,” says Rich Robinson, director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a watchdog group. Robinson says state laws aren’t designed for aggressive enforcement:

“If someone chooses just to not report at all, what are the odds that they’ll be caught? This is a case where if [Vision 05’s lack of compliance hadn’t come to light] they would still be operating outside the law with impunity.”

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