LANSING — Fay Beydoun, a campaign donor and appointee of Gov. Whitmer, is poised to receive a $20 million state grant for her newly formed Oakland County-based nonprofit that seeks to attract international startup businesses to Michigan.
Beydoun filed paperwork to incorporate Global Link International 10 days after the Michigan legislature appropriated $20 million for her organization on July 1, state records show.
Beydoun, an Oakland County resident, sits on the executive committee of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), which administers Beydoun’s grant and annually doles out tens of millions of dollars in economic development incentives to existing and prospective businesses. In 2019, Whitmer appointed Beydoun to the MEDC board as well as the state’s Commission on Middle Eastern American Affairs.
Details on how the grant will be used are still lacking in the paperwork recently filed with the State Budget Office. The $20 million was among nearly $1 billion in so-called “enhancement grants” or pet projects sought by lawmakers that were tucked into the state’s $76 billion state budget hours before passage during the early morning hours of July 1.
The grant’s legislative sponsor is listed as then-House Speaker Jason Wentworth on documents submitted in recent weeks to the State Budget Office, but Wentworth denies he sought the funding.
The Farwell Republican said he met with Beydoun about her plans for Global Link International before budget negotiations started in earnest, but he said he decided not to prioritize state funding for the project after that meeting.
“It’s not something that I opposed, but it’s not something that I made a priority or supported,” Wentworth told The Detroit News. “I did not advocate for this.”
Both Beydoun and Sharif Hussein, an Okemos businessman and political donor who helped advocate for the grant, maintain Wentworth was the sponsor.
Beydoun, who is executive director of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce and was elected second vice chair of the Michigan Democratic Party in 2021, defended the project as an asset to Michigan’s economy.
With the grant, Beydoun said she plans to convince international businesses and startups to move to Michigan. But she released few other details about the project — such as the number of individuals who might be employed with the grant — because plans are still being developed.
“This is a way for the state of Michigan to be proactive,” she told The News. “Our economies have become so global that we need to be more proactive and think ahead.”
At the time he met with Beydoun about the project, Wentworth said, she was only asking for $5 million. Months later, a $20 million, four-year grant ended up in an annual state budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
Beydoun signed the paperwork to form the nonprofit on June 27 — three days before the passage of the state budget — and filed the paperwork with the state on July 11. The nonprofit is registered at her home address in Oakland County, according to state business records.
Whitmer’s office, which was in the room for many of the negotiations, also maintained Wentworth sponsored the grant, which the administration described as an effort to “attract international entrepreneurs and companies as part of the state’s broader economic strategy.”
“We continue to land a record number of jobs as we win major projects and bring supply chains home, and hope these efforts will help us create even more jobs,” Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy said.
Then-Rep. Thomas Albert, the Lowell Republican who chaired the House Appropriations Committee last year, said he wasn’t involved with the grant. Then-Sen. Jim Stamas, the Midland Republican who chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he didn’t recall the grant.
The State Budget Office disclosed the grant application, with the first details on the recipient and sponsor, to The News in early March, eight months after the historic $76 billion budget was passed. In the coming weeks, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. will consider the application and enter an agreement with Beydoun — a member of its own executive committee — that would provide half of the money for the project upfront and the other half later on.
The project was among 140 items to receive about $1 billion in grant funding in the state’s $76 billion budget after negotiations were conducted largely behind closed doors. The final spending plan, including the list of pet projects, was unveiled a few hours before lawmakers were asked to vote on it.
Many of the 140 projects included few to no details about who the money would benefit or how it would be spent. Some lawmakers have said they were unaware of projects in their own districts that received funding.
While Wentworth denied sponsoring the grant for Global Link International, he said he was familiar with the request.
Wentworth, who left office at the end of December, said he met with Beydoun and others about the project months before budget negotiations reached a peak in June and determined at that time that the grant was not a priority. He said he was unaware he was listed as the sponsor until he was contacted by The News earlier this month.
The State Budget Office, when asked about the contested sponsorship, referred questions to legislative staffers for Republicans now in the House’s minority caucus. House Republican spokesman Jeremiah Ward said staffers stood by the listing of Wentworth on the application.
Beydoun initially told The News she didn’t remember which lawmaker sponsored the project. When informed that the grant application listed Wentworth as the sponsor, she said the former speaker was the sponsor.
“I spoke with multiple people,” Beydoun said. “It was an effort from many different sources. It wasn’t just one person in particular. They all felt like it was something that was much needed.”
Hussein, the Okemos businessman who is a frequent donor to both Republican and Democratic politicians, said he helped to advocate for the project on behalf of Beydoun, a friend. He said there was “bipartisan support” for the project, but it was “absolutely” his understanding that Wentworth was the sponsor.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Hussein said. “We need that for the economy of Michigan.”
Beydoun said the nonprofit that received the funding is meant to proactively pursue global investments from international startups to locate in Michigan. She said the four-year, $20 million grant will not fund the total program and that the initiative will be seeking other funding.
“The funding is for the establishment and then, after that, for the operation of the program,” she said.
The application for the grant says the nonprofit will focus “on next-generation medical services and equipment; agriculture; engineering, design and development; and other technology-focused industries.
Funds shall be used for the establishment of the accelerator and operating support.”
Beydoun’s political contributions over the past two years have been exclusive to Democratic candidates, groups and initiatives, according to campaign finance records. Beydoun was elected second vice chair of the Michigan Democratic Party in 2021 and currently chairs the Arab American Democrats caucus within the state party.
In 2021, she contributed $2,750 to Whitmer for a total cumulative contribution of $9,900 since 2019, according to state campaign finance records.
Hussein, an appointee of Whitmer’s to the Children’s Trust Fund, is a donor to both Whitmer and Wentworth, along with several other lawmakers, records show.
In 2021, Hussein contributed $100,000 to Whitmer’s gubernatorial campaign, $10,000 to the Wentworth Majority Fund and $15,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee. Between 2021 and 2022, he contributed more than $15,000 to political action committees associated with now-House Republican Leader Matt Hall of Richland Township and $17,000 to committees associated with Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Township).
MEDC board members get funding
After groups like Global Link International submit enhancement grant applications, the MEDC prepares draft agreements with the recipients, then distributes 50 percent of the grant money upfront and 50 percent later on.
The recipient is required to provide quarterly reports as well as a final report at the end of the grant term, according to the State Budget Office.
The MEDC, when asked about a potential conflict between Beydoun’s role at the corporation and its administration of the grant, said the executive committee did not oversee the grant funding.
“MEDC simply administers legislative enhancement grants — including recipient, grant requirements and grant structures — based on the requirements of the legislation passed by lawmakers,” MEDC spokesman Otie McKinley said.
Beydoun is not the only MEDC executive committee member who received grant funding through the July budget deal.
The Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, whose president, Thomas Lutz, serves on the MEDC executive committee with Beydoun, received $5 million for skilled trades promotion.
– Source: The Detroit News