Settlement funds used well, former attorney general says

BY JORDAN SCHRADER
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 22, 2002

As attorney general, Frank Kelley led Michigan's lawsuit against the tobacco companies and won a settlement of about $300 million a year, which now funds the scholarships high school students receive for passing the MEAP test.

Last week, Kelley joined the fight to keep the money where it is.

Kelley, a Democrat, announced Thursday that he will co-chair People Protecting Kids and the Constitution, joining chairman and state Sen. John Schwarz (R-Battle Creek).

The group opposes the proposal on the Nov. 5 election ballot that would redirect 90 percent of the settlement funds to health care and smoking prevention programs.

On Michigan Public Television's "Off the Record," Kelley said he and other state attorney generals filed the lawsuits to reimburse the state for health care costs, and the settlement should go into the state's general fund.

"The damages were suffered by the state of Michigan. he said. "It's the people's money."

The settlement money pays for the $2,500 Michigan Merit Award scholarships and several other programs. Voter approval of Proposal 02-4 would cut funding for the awards.

The groups that would receive money under the proposal don't deserve it because they didn't participate in the lawsuit, Kelley said.

"Not one of them would help me," he said. "They're not entitled to it because they never proved a bit of damage in court in this case."

Art Knueppel, chairman of the pro-proposal group Citizens for a Healthy Michigan, said in a written statement that health groups did stand with Kelley against the tobacco companies.

"I know these groups are shocked and outraged that Frank is now turning his back on Michigan children who are smoking and citizens who are sick and dying from tobacco," Kneuppel said.

"If you become a Lansing insider, you tend to forget what's in the best interest of the people."

If the proposal passes, millions of dollars would go to organizations that can spend the money however they want, Kelley said.

"There's no obligation for them to disclose any of their expenditures. They know that. This is a fraud, a misrepresentation. They can take this $300 million and they can spend it on doorknobs, and there's nothing you can do about it," he added.

The proposal would constitutionally mandate how the settlement is spent, which Kelley said should be the state legislature's job.

"This is the worst assault on constitutional and representative government in the history of the state," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's a robbery."