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Five board members got hefty campaign donations from Wayne Co. exec’s political funding arm

Detroit —Wayne County commissioners are entering an election year facing increasing criticism they failed as a watchdog of Executive Robert Ficano’s administration because he’s a major campaign contributor.

Ficano’s political action committee has given about $150,000 to commission election campaigns since 2006, including $72,650 for the 2010 election. Nine of 15 commissioners received money from the PAC that election.

Commissioner Ilona Varga, who raised $1,600 beyond the $10,000 she received from Ficano in the last election, and other recipients said it doesn’t buy influence. But critics, including union leaders, said it makes it easier for them to look the other way.

“It’s hard to keep hearing that: ‘We didn’t know,'” said Denis Martin, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 826 that represents county road workers. “Every penny that comes out of the county, they should know about. They are the watchdogs of taxpayer money.”

Commissioners said they have moved aggressively with reforms since learning that former economic development czar Turkia Mullin received $200,000 when she quit to become chief executive of the Detroit Metropolitan Airport in September. She was fired from that post after about two months, and the FBI is now investigating the severance and Ficano’s administration.

The commission has held hearings about the payout, passed an ordinance to ban severances, sought to reduce Ficano’s appointees and moved to create an independent fraud investigator who answers to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

Read this entire article by Christine MacDonald in the Detroit News

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