One of responses that Gov. Rick Snyder has had to his administration’s poisoning of Flint’s drinking water is to hire public relations people. LOTS of public relations people, in fact. Back in December, he brought on PR specialist Chris DeWitt.
Then, even before he had given his State of the State Address, he hired Bill Nowling, another communications expert. Then, last Friday he announced that he had brought on the PR firm Mercury Public Affairs.
Mercury is an interesting group. They are run largely by former Republican operatives and are willing to take on some very sketchy clients. For example, after Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed that nation’s draconian anti-LGBT bill that makes even knowing a gay person and not exposing them illegal, the Ugandan government hired Mercury to do PR for the country:
One month after the U.S. government announced the first substantial sanctions against Uganda in response to its Anti-Homosexuality Act, the government of Yoweri Museveni signed a contract with the D.C. consulting firm Mercury to help with public relations and lobby in the United States.
Uganda signed the one-year contract worth $600,000 on July 17, according to federal disclosure filings. Messages to Mercury representatives were not immediately returned, but the contract says that “Mercury will provide consulting and communications services to promote trade and investment opportunities in Uganda.” That includes managing media relations, and specifies that the firm will monitor coverage of President Museveni as well as the country as whole. The filing is signed by former Republican congressman and Romney campaign adviser Vin Weber, a partner at Mercury.
In addition, during the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, Mercury clients have given over $3.8 million to Republicans.
What’s interesting about Gov. Snyder’s hiring of Mercury is the timing. He had already hired an independent PR person for the Flint water crisis back in December. Then he brought on Bill Nowling. These hires are, of course, in addition to his full-time communications director, his full-time press secretary, two deputy press secretaries and countless support staff for all of them. The interesting timing is that he announced the hiring of Mercury on January 22nd, the very next day after it was announced that he may be “invited” to testify before Congress about the Flint situation.
When you look at the facts, it really makes you wonder if Mercury was hired not to do public relations but, rather, to lobby members of Congress to keep the Governor from having to go to Washington, D.C. to answer hard questions during a Congressional hearing.
Oh, and one more thing: Gov. Snyder is paying Mercury from a separate, private fund, Moving Michigan Forward Fund, not with state funds.