Michigan’s ‘Transparency’ Bills Actually Stall Legislator’s Public Finances
Shirkey recently expressed his distrust of financial transparency to the Detroit News Editorial Board: “I’ve been a little reluctant to accept financial disclosures and so this was crafted in a way that I think we can live because I didn’t. I want this in your hands while people serve and people struggle to know what their personal financials are. “
Asked by Bridge about any role for Shirkey in financial disclosure legislation, her spokeswoman Abby Walls said, “You will need to talk to the House about the details of this plan and what she is looking to achieve with this project. law. In general, Senator Shirkey supports the government being more accountable to the people of Michigan.
President Wentworth’s spokesperson Gideon D’Assandro told Bridge that the proposed closed oversight committee was a compromise “to keep politicians honest.
“Fundamentally, the heart of disclosures is ending conflicts of interest. This compromise makes it work. This moves the Michigan government away from self-declaration and a stronger demand honor system with real oversight. But it also removes this concern about politicization and ensures that reform will do its job without unnecessarily creating new avenues for partisan politics.
Despite the lack of public transparency, the proposals received praise from Voters Not Politicians, the nonprofit group whose mission is to make government more accountable to the public, which joined a press release issued by political leaders.
“These bills will not solve all of Lansing’s problems, but they will be an important first step in getting us on the right track and ensuring that our politicians are accountable to us,” said Nancy Wang, the group’s executive director. Release.
Wang did not respond to Bridge Michigan’s multiple interview requests about the financial interest bill.
Democratic House leader Donna Lasinski also welcomed the measures in the same statement. “These reforms represent significant, albeit gradual, steps that will help restore citizens’ confidence in our government by increasing transparency and demanding high ethical standards from public officials.
Lasinki also did not respond to a request from Bridge.
Robert Leddy, spokesperson for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, said the governor “believes state government should be open, transparent and accountable to taxpayers. She is the first governor in state history to voluntarily disclose personal financial information, tax returns, travel records and public calendars online at www.michigan.gov/sunshine. “
Whitmer has also been criticized for approving confidential separation agreements and for failing to honor a campaign pledge to subject his office to the state freedom of information law if lawmakers haven’t.
In the meantime, Michigan carries the dubious ranking distinction last dead among states in a 2015 national study on state ethics and transparency, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit government watchdog organization.
Its failure was in part based on poor public access to government information, insufficient ethical enforcement, and no requirement for lawmakers to disclose their assets.
In 2016, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network and Bridge Magazine (now Bridge Michigan) highlighted the importance of asset disclosure. Examining the voting records of Michigan lawmakers, the report revealed at least 15 cases of potential financial conflicts, including:
- In 2015, then-Rep. Brandt Iden, Township of R-Oshtemo, sponsored a bill clarify who is responsible when a rental property is infested with bedbugs. According to an analysis of the bill by the House Fiscal Agency, the owner would not be liable for damage resulting from an infestation or control or treatment, except in cases of gross negligence. The measure was passed by the House, but did not become law.
At the time, according to his official State House biography, Iden was then listed as “President of Identity Management & Consulting Inc., a property management company.” Iden’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
- In 2016, then-Rep. Ken Goike, Twp. R-Ray, has been listed as the “Owner of Goike Trucking and Excavating,” according to his official House biography. According to the company’s website, “Goike Excavating is the leading installer of septic systems in Macomb County.”
In 2015, he sponsored a bill which “would add sludge emptying vehicles performing emergency septic work to vehicles with an exception to seasonal vehicle weight limits,” according to the House Fiscal Agency. Goike’s office did not respond to a request for comment at the time on the bill, which did not become law.
- According to the official 2016 Senate biography of then-Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, he worked “27 years in his family’s log trucking business, including 12 years as owner and operator”, before joining the Legislature.
In 2016, Casperson sponsored a bill to ban local governments require special permits for logging trucks, which are sometimes overweight. The measure became law in 2017. In 2013, he sponsored a bill to restrict the state’s ability to manage forests. Governor Rick Snyder has vetoed it. Casperson’s office did not respond to requests for comment at the time. Casperson died in 2020.
Michigan’s restrictive public records laws are also well known.
It’s one of only two states that completely exempts the governor’s office and the legislature from requests for public documents, another public disclosure shield lending its ethics rating of “F”.
A separate, long-debated transparency package presented to the House in March would end that distinction by extending FOIA to the executive branch and creating a new open archives legislative act.
This plan is supported by groups such as the Michigan Press Association, Voters Not Politicians, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
But Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and others say the legislation does not go far enough because, among other issues, it would not allow residents to sue the Legislature if a request is denied, allow lawmakers to destroy certain communications before they become public and protect all internal documents of political party caucuses in the House and Senate.
Steve Delie, executive director of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government, a nonprofit group that advocates for open government, sees the measure as flawed as well.
“It’s not what I would have liked, but it’s better than what we have,” he told Bridge. (Disclosure: Bridge Michigan sits on the board of directors of MICOG.)
Delie sees the oversight proposed by the legislature’s asset ethics committee in the same way – incremental, but at least a start.
“Is it as transparent as full disclosure?” No. There is no problem with that, by not having more financial disclosure the public will not be able to hold their legislators accountable.
“But what we have now is nothing. It’s better than nothing.