Michigan’s Legislature seems determined to retain the state’s status as the least transparent, least ethical public body in the nation.
The latest sleight of hand in Lansing is an effort by Republican leaders -– and some leading reformers on the left — to bastardize legislation that would have ended a key proviso of state government secrecy.
Michigan remains one of only two states that don’t require state lawmakers to disclose their finances – business ownerships or partnerships, real estate, stocks – which would reveal legislators’ conflicts of interest.
A previous bill to require full public disclosure of income and assets has been twisted into a secretive system where only a small committee of lawmakers could see the financial records that would be submitted by fellow legislators.
The public would be kept in the dark unless this shadowy committee declares that one of their colleagues is guilty of violating conflict-of-interest standards. Otherwise, House and Senate members’ records would be withheld, exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) disclosure, until after they leave office.
A 2015 national study that ranked Michigan last in transparency, ethics and accountability has not jarred the state Legislature into action. Six years after the “F” grade awarded to the state, we have seen no reform movement in Lansing, no substantive improvements in Michigan’s shady system, while also witnessing some backward moves away from a good-government approach.
Consider this: Even Congress, certainly not a bastion of ethical purity, requires public disclosure of its members’ financial entanglements.
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This is an excerpt from a column I wrote for Deadline Detroit.