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Judicial Watch, Inc. is a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, which promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.

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Corruption Chronicles

Detroit Mayor Has Nonprofit Slush Fund

A secret nonprofit created by Detroit’s controversial mayor to supposedly conduct voter education and community improvements paid almost $9,000 for his stay at a lavish California resort.

Created by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the Kilpatrick Civic Fund was established as a tax-exempt organization to pay for voter education and other civic-minded activities. The fund gets about half a million dollars annually, donors’ identities are not always made public and lots of the money comes from organized labor as “political contributions.”

The mayor evidently uses a lot of the cash as his personal slush fund. Just recently, the nonprofit picked up the $8,600 tab for two rooms at a world-famous California spa and resort called La Costa. Kilpatrick, his wife and kids and a nanny evidently were on a crucial west-coast fundraising trip.

The mayor says his so-called nonprofit, which is operated by his sister, regularly pays his hefty travel and lodging fees. Many politicians are beginning to use such nonprofits as a way to circumvent laws that limit giving to political campaigns.

But there is no place in government for a secretive fund that raises money from special interests and can be loosely spent, according to a Detroit newspaper editorial that calls for the dismantling of Kilpatrick’s fund. It goes on to point out that this is not the first time Kilpatrick is under a cloud of suspicion for not drawing a sharp line between spending on public duties and spending on personal luxuries.

Indeed, the mayor of a poor and struggling U.S. city has expensive taste that is often financed by taxpayers. During the first 33 months of his term, Kilpatrick charged more than $210,000 on his city-issued credit card for travel, meals and entertainment. He also used $25,000 of city funds to lease a fancy sports utility vehicle for his wife at a time when Detroit’s $230 million budget deficit forced him to eliminate 3,000 city jobs and cut bus service.

The scandals and subsequent sharp decline in approval ratings led a major news magazine to list Kilpatrick as one of the worst big-city mayors in the United States. The mayor responded with a controversial advertisement comparing the media criticism of him to violent lynch mobs.