Oct 27, 2023 - Politics

Lawmakers fast-track bare minimum transparency package

Illustration of a magnifying glass examining a hundred dollar bill

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Nearly a year after voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure requiring state politicians to disclose their assets and sources of income, Michigan's lackluster transparency and ethics laws are finally being addressed.

Why it matters: After having all year, the legislature is now just weeks away from a constitutionally imposed, end-of-the-year deadline to pass new financial disclosure bills and get them written into law.

Driving the news: A package of transparency and ethics bills was introduced in the House and Senate this week to implement Proposal 1's financial disclosure requirements.

  • The Senate bills are SB 613, sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), SB 614 by Senate Oversight Chair Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), SB 615 by Sen. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker) and SB 616 by Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Twp.).
  • The House package is sponsored by Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township), whose ties to the public relations firm she co-founded has brought criticism to her and the House leadership who defended her.

State of play: All state lawmakers and executives would be required to make their income and assets public by April 15, 2024.

  • They would also have to disclose their liabilities, future employment agreements and their spouses' occupations and positions held.

Yes, but: Critics of the package say it allows politicians to keep important information secret.

  • The reforms would not reveal new details about trips or perks that lawmakers benefit from due to their influential positions, the Detroit News reports.

The intrigue: While sponsors of the package call it just the first step, lawmakers on both sides of each chamber were skeptical about leaders taking the requirements any further in the future.

  • Neither Democratic leadership nor Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made the implementation of Prop 1 a first-day priority after taking full control of the government following last November's elections.

What they're saying: "This is objectively a huge step forward compared to the system that does not hold our elected officials accountable," Moss said during a committee hearing Tuesday.

  • "Is there more we can do? Absolutely."

Between the lines: "We've always said we want to go from worst to first — these bills on their own would not take us there," Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said on Zoom during Wednesday's Senate Oversight Committee hearing to support the bills. She also offered criticism, saying she hopes it's just the first step.

  • "The spousal disclosure provision in the bills includes minimal information as to make it relatively ineffective," Benson said. She urged lawmakers to include not just the occupation but also a financial disclosure and the spouse's employer.
  • "The current language creates too many loopholes … if you're going to include spouses in this additional language in the legislation, then you should do so in a meaningful way or not at all."

Meanwhile, Whitmer criticized the spousal provision during Thursday's Michigan Press Association convention in downtown Lansing. She raised concerns that requiring financial reporting for politicians' spouses could be "held against female candidates" in a way that it won't be held against male candidates.

The other side: "That's the biggest lie in Lansing, 'Let's come back and push it further,'" Rep. Tom Kunse (R-Clare) tells Axios. "There's no appetite to take this any further."

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