Among the eight Republican and Democratic candidates actively campaigning for governor, all seem to favor transparency that makes them accountable to the voters, yet few are willing to come clean on their personal finances.
Bridge Magazine requested financial information from the contenders, adhering to the federal reporting requirements for presidential and congressional candidates – income, assets, gifts, paid speeches – but the response was less than forthright.
Among the Democrats, Shri Thanedar, a successful businessman who is almost certainly the wealthiest candidate in the race to replace term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder, said he will release his records at a later date. Bill Cobbs said he will not release any information.
Republicans Patrick Colbeck and Evan Space also said they would not disclose their financial records. Earl Lackie said he may at a later date. Joseph DeRose did not respond to Bridge.
Of course, in a state where financial disclosure is not required, it’s easy to say “nope” to the media and then hope they go away.
The Democratic frontrunner at this stage, Gretchen Whitmer (pictured above, left), released her individual 2015 and 2016 federal tax returns to Bridge, but not her spouse’s. Nor did she release other financial information requested.
The top Republican contender, Bill Schuette (pictured above, right), on the campaign trail has called for state elected officers and candidates for public office to disclose personal finances similar to members of Congress. He shared his 2016 federal income tax return with Bridge, filed jointly with his wife, but did not divulge specific information about significant assets or travels on junkets, which are among items that must be disclosed by lawmakers on Capitol Hill. In particular, he said his financial assets are placed in a blind trust to avoid conflicts, but he refused to say how much the trust was worth.
Michigan ‘infamous’ for secretive politics
Writing for Bridge, Riley Beggin and Lindsay VanHulle offered this analysis:
Michigan has been ranked the least transparent state in the nation. Compared with others, Michigan is significantly more secretive about campaign money in politics, public records and potential ethical conflicts, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan investigative news organization that conducts research on government transparency nationwide. That means it is more difficult for Michigan voters to know who, or what, is influencing their politicians or political candidates.
Most other states require personal financial disclosures from gubernatorial candidates, and Michigan is “infamous” for not having these requirements for legislators, said Kytja Weir, who leads the state politics team at The Center for Public Integrity.
Where do their loyalties lie?
In addition to campaign finance reports, which are mandated by state law, personal financial disclosures tell a lot about a candidate’s potential conflicts of interest and those people who may maintain a certain amount of control over them through monetary means. For example, sometimes candidates have a side business or a financial partnership in a corporation or they owe personal loans.
Overall, the limited information shared by gubernatorial candidates with the public, through Bridge, does not present troubling details that may concern voters. The biggest number to pop up showed that Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Attorney General Schuette’s strongest challenger, has a 401(k) account worth between $250,000 and $500,000.
The largest income was reported by Abdul El-Sayed, the underdog Democratic candidate chasing Whitmer, who documented that he and his wife earned $237,063 in 2016, plus they have ownership in three residential properties. El-Sayed and longshot Republican Jim Hines were the only candidates who provided Bridge with full disclosure.
The question now becomes: Do the other candidates believe that they can make it all the way through the August primary election without supplying basic, pertinent information to the voters?