The Flint water crisis and the billionaires behind Governor Rick Snyder

In March 2014, the city of Flint began sourcing its water from the Flint River, a decision that would have ostensibly saved the city $5 million over two years, at the behest of state-appointed Emergency Manager Darnell Earley. Soon after the switch, residents began complaining of water with a rank smell and taste, and samples tested in coming months were found to contain fecal coliform bacteria, trihalomethanes (a disinfection product), and high levels of lead. The latter has been found in the bloodstreams of Flint’s children and infants.

Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency on December 15, but evidence indicates that officials in Snyder’s administration not only acknowledged the severity of crisis in Flint for months prior – they tried to cover it up.

Last September, the ACLU found that officials from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality manipulated lead tests from Flint so as not to attract the ire of the Environmental Protection Agency. And emails sent last July by Snyder’s Chief of Staff, Dennis Muchmore, revealed that the administration was aware of the severity of the crisis months before it decided to switch Flint’s water source back to Detroit.

Now, as Michigan state police go door-to-door delivering bottled water and water filters to Flint residents, people are calling for Snyder’s resignation and even his arrest.

As these demands intensify, it’s worth examining the network of out-of-state billionaires propping up Snyder. It includes not only far-right bogeyman David Koch, but prominent centrists and Democratic donors that fund work around environmental, public health, and education issues. In fact, some of these Snyder donors are major funders of organizations that have taken action around the Flint water crisis, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club. Below is a list of notable donors, all of whom maxed out to Snyder’s 2014 campaign (a full list is here).

Given the scale of crisis and the nature of their philanthropic interests, will Snyder’s billionaire network continue to stand behind their guy in Michigan?

Michael Bloomberg

Billionaire and former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg brought Snyder along to the 2015 White House Correspondents Dinner as his guest. Bloomberg is a major donor to environmental causes, donating $30 million to the Sierra Club earlier this year and $6 million to the Environmental Defense Fund in 2012. The Sierra Club called for an investigation of the Flint water crisis in October. Bloomberg has also given more than $100 million to the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, which was renamed in recognition of his support. An associate professor at the school’s environmental, Dr. Ana Navas-Acien, is a leading researcher on the link between lead poisoning and cardiovascular disease.

Katharine Rayner

Rayner inherited a multibillion dollar stake in Cox Enterprises. She currently serves on the board of the New York Public Library and gifted a million dollars to a team at the University of Michigan’s biomedical research center researching treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). A study from 2010 found that long term exposure to lead may increase one’s risk of developing ALS.

Daniel Tishman

Tishman, also an extremely wealthy New Yorker, made his money in construction and development. He is chairman of the board of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which announced in November that it was joining with the ACLU of Michigan and Flint residents in suing the city and state over the water crisis. Tishman has also established a scholarship for “sustainable development” in his family name, and currently serves on the boards of the Real Estate Board of New York, the Real Estate Roundtable and the New York Building Congress.

Eli Broad

This Los Angeles billionaire is a major player in the education reform movement, and he recently announced through his foundation that he wants at least 50 percent of L.A. public school students educated in charter schools over the next eight years. The Broad Foundation also maintains the Broad Medical Research Program, which researches treatment for ulcerative colitis (chronic intestinal inflammation) and Crohn’s disease. Both conditions may develop from, or be exacerbated by, lead poisoning. His wife, Edythe, also maxed out to Snyder.

Hank Paulson

After stints as CEO of Goldman Sachs and then Secretary of the Treasury, Paulson now serves on a number of different boards, including the Nature Conservancy (where he is chairman) and the Energy Transitions Commission, a fossil-fuel industry funded organization that promotes “low-carbon” urban development.