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Opinion | Why won’t Michigan Democrats pass lawmaker financial disclosure?

It has now been a year since the people of Michigan voted to require state lawmakers to be open and honest about their business dealings. But Democrats in control of the Michigan Legislature have yet to take the actions required of them by Proposal 1 of 2022.

 Tom Kunse and Pauline Wendzel
State Representative Tom Kunse, R-Clare, is minority vice chair of the Ethics and Oversight Committee and lead sponsor of financial transparency bills. Rep. Pauline Wendzel, R-Bainbridge Township, serves as the minority vice chair of the Energy Committee.

Michiganders called upon lawmakers to pass a thoughtful plan that would expose potential conflicts of interest and ensure legislators can’t abuse the system. They gave the Legislature until Dec. 31 of this year to put a system in place that complies with the constitutional amendment we overwhelmingly supported.

But instead of taking action, the Democrat majority has ignored this critical issue while crusading to pass their partisan priorities. All the while, Democrat lawmakers with potential conflicts of interests continue to take questionable votes.

Earlier this year, after the Legislature pushed through a record $82 billion budget, media reports revealed connections between the budget committee chairwoman and clients of her private business that lobbied for and received funding in the state budget.

Now, as Democrats fast track their deeply unpopular energy mandates, two more potential conflicts of interest have been brought to light.

Rep. Joey Andrews (D-St. Joseph) is the vice chair of the Energy Committee and would be the deciding vote on a plan to take away local control over large-scale solar zoning and hand it to officials in Lansing. He also happens to own a solar installation business in Southwest Michigan, potentially benefiting from gobs of new business while his local community loses its voice on this issue. Andrews’ sister also just happened to get a job as a green energy lobbyist mere days before the public rollout of the plan. Without financial transparency requirements and clear standards to catch conflicts of interest, all of this was kept quiet until the media recently discovered the connections.

Controversial bills still in committee would even more directly benefit a small solar installation business, including carve outs to require a certain percentage of the state’s energy grid to come from exactly that kind of business. Except for a news story last week, none of us would know that our vice chairman has that conflict of interest. That’s not how public servants should go about their job.

Andrews wasn’t the only legislator to see a family member receive a plum job because of this issue. The wife of one of the lead sponsors of the solar bills, state Rep. Phil Skaggs, won a lobbying contract from a major solar company the week before her husband introduced the legislation. Absent a breaking news story, none of us would have known.

We don’t know how much these connections affected the solar legislation or the state budget. We don’t even know if the representatives intend to do the right thing and recuse themselves when the solar bills come up for a vote. Shouldn’t we have that information?

Our state government makes decisions every day that impact our jobs, our schools, and our very way of life. What we do matters deeply to our community. But for now, we are all being asked to simply trust that our politicians are making the right decisions for the right reasons. That’s not right, and every one of us at the Capitol knows it.

Since taking control of the Legislature in January, Democrats have shown absolutely no interest in ethics or transparency. The Ethics Committee hasn’t had a single meeting since June, and it hasn’t taken a vote on a single bill all year. The people of Michigan have had enough, and so have we.

It’s time to have an honest discussion about these transformative bills and why they’re being rushed while transparency is ignored. It’s time for the Ethics Committee to buckle down and ensure no one can take advantage of their elected offices to further themselves financially. 

And it’s well past time for the Legislature to implement Proposal 1 the way voters intended and bring all potential conflicts of interest to light before any more questionable decisions are made.

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