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Michigan lawmaker wants to pay reporters to uncover corruption

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(The Center Square) – A Michigan lawmaker wants to pay reporters and news organizations to expose public corruption and save taxpayers money.

Rep. Joseph Aragona, R-Clinton Township, developed the idea after the Detroit News recently exposed questionable spending surrounding a $20 million grant by businesswoman Fay Beydoun. She was an executive committee member of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

As previously reported by The Center Square, the Detroit News first reported the spending, which included a $4,500 coffee maker, $11,000 for a plane ticket, $100,000 for a sponsorship, and $9,400 for annual membership dues in the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Since then, Attorney General Dana Nessel has launched an investigation, and both the House and Senate have voted to withdraw what was left of the funding.

Aragona sees the idea of bounties for reporters to uncover misuse of taxpayer funds as a way to promote local journalism.

“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,” Aragona said.

One item bought with the taxpayer-funded grant was a Z10 diamond white Jura coffeemaker that cost $4,526 after adding 10 accessories, including $359 for cool control, a $249 cup warmer, $196 for filters, $68 for decalcifying tablets, $25 for a milk system cleaner, and $50 for a glass milk container.

Other expenses were $21,400 on Wayfair furniture, more than $4,000 in hotel rooms, $3,950 to a recruiter to find a chief of staff, and $40,800 for two years of housing.

The grant condition only requires an audit once half of the money is spent.

He said if the state can get back the unspent part of the $10 million already handed out and end the rest of the grant, that would be a $19 million savings for taxpayers. And, he thinks, 10% or $1.9 million should go to the Detroit News and the reporters covering the issue.

“The federal government offers rewards to whistleblowers,” Aragona said. “Silicon Valley uses big 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.”

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