Deadline Detroit | Michigan Legislature’s Ethical Reforms Are ’22 Trap,’ Democrat Lawmaker Says
Joseph Heller, the novelist whose 1961 title “Catch-22” is immortalized as synonymous with absurd or contradictory choices, would recognize an illusory move by Michigan lawmakers.
They talk about “higher standards” and being “more open, honest and responsible”. But the bills that House Democrats glorify as “a broad package of reforms to state ethics and transparency laws” have “just one hitch,” said Ron French of Michigan Bridge discover:
Michigan remains one of only two states that does not require state lawmakers to disclose their financial interests, a lack of transparency that makes it difficult to know whether lawmakers are supporting bills that benefit them personally. …
“We need to do better and keep ourselves at a higher standard,” GOP House Speaker Jason Wentworth said in a statement last week. The bill “will make our entire system more open, more honest and more accountable to the people we serve.”
Sounds good, but the reporter from Lansing believes that financial disclosures required by senators and officials “would be exempt from the Open Meetings Act and the State Freedom of Information Act, which makes publicly available government information “.
The public would only learn of the existence of the financial assets of a current legislator if the [new oversight] the committee determines that a member has violated ethical standards relating to conflict of interest. In addition, members’ financial records can only be released to the public upon request after their departure, under the law. …
In contrast, in Wisconsin and dozens of other states, officials and candidates for public office must file returns that are open to public inspection and list financial information such as their employers, investments, real estate and their creditors.
Among the legislative insiders and others cited by the French include Representative David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, who in February introduced eight bills with Representative Mark Huizenga, R-Walker, who they said “Would increase transparency by helping to identify conflicts of interest in the personal finances of elected officials.”
Their aim was to demand that “lawmakers and other public officials publicly declare their sources of income, including stocks, real estate and professional associations.” The joint statement quotes Huizenga as saying, “Requiring those who campaign and serve in the public service to file a simple financial conflict disclosure form will provide voters with the information they need to elect leaders who represent their values.”
Now, nine weeks later, the Frenchman reports interview comments from the leading Democratic co-sponsor:
LaGrand has denigrated the private manner in which financial information would be submitted under the current proposal as a “farce” that leaves the public unprotected from interested lawmakers.
“It gives absolutely no protection to the public,” he said. “It’s a dead end committee – you can sue lawmakers if they have financial irregularities, but the only way to know they have financial irregularities is to have access to their disclosure.”