Mailer targets Bernero over sex harassment accusations

Nonprofit group expands ‘educational effort’ in Lansing

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THURSDAY, March 25 — A dark money group that recently bought a series of attack ads against former three-term Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero is back at it again this week, sending out mailers to Lansing residents in the form of a new “educational effort,” its spokesman said today.

Two-sided postcards from Michigan Deserves Better, which is registered with the IRS as a tax exempt 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, hit at least one Lansing mailbox this week. The group’s president and local political consultant, Joe DiSano, won’t disclose funding or name donors, but he has made the purpose of the campaign consistent and clear: Block Bernero from a fourth term.

“This is an educational effort,” DiSano said, noting there is still “more to come.”

The mailers are headlined with the phrase “Bernero’s Victims Speak Out” — a reference to two accusations of sexual harassment leveled against Bernero earlier this month. It also prominently features a photo of City Councilwoman Patricia Spitzley, who told City Pulse that she plans to announce her campaign for mayor this week. 

“Lansing has had enough of Virg Bernero’s misogyny, sexual harassment and lies,” it reads.

Bernero was accused of groping one woman as a gubernatorial candidate in 2010 and making unwanted sexual phone calls to another as a state senator in 2004. After the allegations were published, Spitzley told City Pulse: “As a woman and a woman of color, it is personally difficult and painful to hear these accounts of their experiences. These women need to be listened to, heard and treated with dignity and respect. It took incredible bravery for them to come forward and tell their stories.” That quote was prominently featured on one side of the recent mailers.

DiSano said Spitzley isn’t involved with the group and wasn’t consulted before they were sent.

At least one mailer also misspelled her last name as “Spritzley.” 

"I wasn't involved at all," Spitzley added. "I'd have a little more finesse than that. I'd also spell my name correctly."

Michigan Deserves Better also purchased a full back-page advertisement (and others) in City Pulse that have labeled Bernero as “America’s Horniest Mayor.” It also listed donors to Bernero’s fledgling re-election campaign, some of whom still stand behind Bernero

“Nobody wants to go back to the years of Virg Bernero in Lansing,” DiSano told City Pulse last week. “We just got rid of Trump. This just isn’t at all what this city needs right now.”

Bernero, who is seeking an unprecedented fourth term, has announced this month he is taking on Andy Schor, the incumbent who replaced him in 2018 after Bernero sat out the election in 2017. In addition to Spitzley, four lesser known candidates have also announced early starts to their campaigns:, Jeffery Handley, Larry Hutchinson Jr., Arielle Padilla and Melissa Huber.

Michigan Deserves Better — not to be confused with the Super PAC with an identical name — is guided by a board with DiSano as its president, he said. While he won’t disclose any financial details, he maintains that “no money is coming in from outside the area.” He also said it has no ties to Schor or his reelection campaign. The IRS also doesn’t require it to report its spending.

According to IRS guidelines, the 501(c)(4) can promote “social welfare” as described in federal law but it cannot be used for direct (or indirect) support or opposition to any candidate for public office. It can engage in “some” political activity, as long as that is not its “primary” purpose. 

After the allegations surfaced, Bernero initially labeled the behavior as “unacceptable and wrong,” while pointing out he did not recall either incident, and apologized to both women. Three days later, he flatly denied the allegations during a radio interview and promoted a baseless conspiracy theory that Schor had somehow encouraged the two women to fabricate the stories.

Bernero didn’t respond to questions about the recent mailers today. 

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