Yet another proposal has emerged in the state Legislature to end Michigan’s status as one of only two states that doesn’t require lawmakers to disclose their finances or property holdings, allowing our politicians to freely engage in conflicts of interest without reprisal.
Still, a legislative package under consideration in the state House comes up far short in eliminating many of the common practices in Lansing that give Michigan a ranking as the worst state in the nation for laws that mandate ethics and integrity among its elected officials.
The Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, ranked Michigan dead last among the 50 states in regulating and preventing legislative conflicts of interest based on lawmakers’ financial interests. Not surprisingly, Michigan, with an overall grade of “F,” also ranked last for government transparency.
The eight-bill package now under consideration would still establish Michigan financial disclosure requirements that are weaker than in 39 of the 48 states that have laws requiring public reporting of state officials’ sources of income. The legislation comes after more than a decade of failed attempts in Lansing to strengthen anti-corruption laws.
The new bills also do not mandate reporting of perks — gifts, junkets and other trips — taken by lawmakers and paid for by lobbyists. The way legislators can use their ties to nonprofit organizations for self-enrichment is also not fully addressed.
Lawmakers’ ability to keep their finances in the dark goes hand-in-hand with Michigan’s oddly opaque system of allowing House and Senate members to advocate for, and vote for, bills that would benefit them or family members financially.
- A House member who is a chiropractor back home in his district introduced legislation that could boost the income of many chiropractors.
- The president of a real estate management company sponsored a bill that would make it more difficult to sue landlords for damages arising from a bed bug infestation.
- A state senator voted for a bill that gave his daughter, a judge, a pay raise.
For legislators in other states, where officials must recuse themselves when they have a personal interest in a bill, this Michigan secrecy must seem all very strange and unseemly.
In 2016, a joint investigative report by Bridge Magazine and the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN), found that self-serving votes in the Capitol “run rampant.”
The reporters revealed that conflict-of-interest recusals, which are entirely voluntary, have dropped roughly 80 percent since the 2019-12 legislative sessions. After that, lawmakers cited a conflict of interest as a reason for not voting just a combined eight times in more than 4,500 roll call votes from January 2013 through Oct. 21, 2016.
At the same time, some critics of the pending package say it deals too harshly with lawmakers in imposing new rules. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican from Jackson County, said he fears that fewer people will run for office if they are required to report their financial interests.