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Dana Nessel calls for pork politics reforms amid Clare grant probe

real estate sign in Clare
Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office is investigating a $25 million grant awarded to build a health and fitness complex on this land in Clare. A nonprofit that got the grant was created by a former aide to former House Speaker Jason Wentworth. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel lambasted special grants awarded by lawmakers, calling some recipients ‘not necessarily qualified’
  • Nessel’s office is currently investigating at least three grants awarded in recent years
  • Nessel called for reforms that would limit the use of the grants and offer more taxpayer protections

MACKINAC ISLAND — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is calling for reforms to a budget process that has awarded billions of dollars in lawmaker pet projects, including three her office is now investigating for possible wrongdoing.

Speaking at the Mackinac Policy Conference, Nessel told Bridge Michigan that her office has determined some recipients were “not necessarily qualified” despite receiving millions of dollars in grants.

“There should be some guardrails in place to make sure that we are spending taxpayer money well and appropriately in a way that best serves the people in our state, not just unfairly enriches a particular person because of the relationship they may or may not have with certain members of the legislature,” Nessel told Bridge.


Her office is investigating a $2 million grant to fund efforts to bring commercial rockets to Michigan, a $25 million health and fitness project in Clare awarded to a former aide to former house Speaker Jason Wentworth, and a $20 million grant for a job incubator run by a Democratic power broker.


The grant-making process helps fund everything from parks and pools to job training, but it has swelled in recent years under both Republican and Democratic leadership.

The process involves little to no public debate. Grants are often no-bid and written in broad language that are designed for one recipient — a situation Nessel likened to a “glass slipper” where “only one foot fits the slipper.”

Nessel told Bridge that she hopes to complete the investigations this year.

The Clare grant, awarded by lawmakers, went through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services while the other grants went through the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Bridge has revealed that MDHHS officials were unclear who was to get the $25 million for the Clare health project until a lobbyist reached out, informing the department that it was intended for a nonprofit created by David Coker Jr., a former aide to Wentworth.

Emails acquired by Bridge then showed that it was approved after a staffer told his superiors that the intended recipient was “both well connected politically and a bit antsy.”

Months later, in May 2023, the grant was halted after questions arose that Coker’s nonprofit had potentially double-billed the state, which paid out over $10 million before stopping the health and fitness project that would have included a bowling alley as its centerpiece.

Coker’s nonprofit used the money to buy 70 acres for $3.5 million, or $50,000 an acre, a price far exceeding local land values. 

The land was purchased from a group that included State Rep. Tom Kunse, R-Clare, who succeeded Wentworth in the Legislature. Kunse has raised questions about the grant as well.


Michigan Democrats, who gained control of the Legislature last year, added some disclosure requirements to the process. But some of those changes — including disclosing who sponsored each grant — didn’t take effect until nearly a year after the money was approved.

But Nessel said the process remains flawed and “there have to be protective measures in place.” 

“You shouldn't just be able to go out and spend millions of dollars on a plot of land that you don't know (whether) it was appraised for $50,000,” she said.

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