LANSING – A liberal advocacy group on Thursday launched a constitutional amendment ballot initiative effort to change Michigan laws to ban lobbyists from giving gifts to public officials and require a “cooling off” period before former officials could become lobbyists.
“For years there’s been talk about the need for more transparency and accountability in Lansing, but nothing has been done,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “It’s time for this type of legal bribery to end.”
The Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes — consisting of Progress Michigan, Michiganders for Fair and Transparent Elections, and undisclosed partners — submitted ballot language with the state Thursday morning. If approved, the groups would need to at least 425,059 valid signatures to place it on the Nov. 3 ballot.
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Michigan has been ranked last in the nation for the strength of its transparency laws.
This ballot initiative would:
- Bar lobbyists from giving anything of value to public officials or their immediate families.
- Require a two-year “cooling-off” period before a former state elected official could become a lobbyist.
- Require lobbyists and their clients to report all lobbying expenses.
- Require public officials and lobbyists to keep a public log of lobbying actions, including meetings and the subjects of conversations.
- Require all public communications aimed at influencing public officials, such as advertisements, to include a marker indicating who paid for them and how much they spent.
- Require lobbying logs be kept for at least six years.
- Give the Secretary of State the power to enforce the rules.
Progress Michigan executive director Lonnie Scott said his group is bringing the initiative because lawmakers won’t increase transparency themselves. (Bridge photo by Riley Beggin)
The rules would apply to the governor and lieutenant governor; secretary of state and attorney general; state legislators; state Supreme Court justices; Court of Appeals judges; state Board of Education members; regents and trustees of public universities; and other elected statewide officials.
Michigan currently requires lobbyists to report financial transactions of $1,275 or more, travel and lodging worth more than $825, food and beverages worth more than $63 per month, and gifts worth more than $63 per month.
The group is pursuing a constitutional amendment because legislators won’t change the laws themselves, said Progress Michigan attorney Mark Brewer, a former state Democratic Party chairman.
Scott said he unsuccessfully tried “several times” to collaborate on the initiative with Voters Not Politicians, the group behind a successful ballot initiative to implement an independent redistricting commission in 2018.
The group has explored working with Republican leaders Sen. Mike Shirkey and Rep. Lee Chatfield on a number of “good government” reforms.
“I personally don’t know how you have a good government reform effort that works directly with the people who are undermining your signature achievement, and frankly I don’t buy the snake oil that Shirkey and Chatfield are selling,” Scott said.
Elizabeth Battiste, spokeswoman for Voters Not Politicians, said the groups’ inability to connect on the initiative was purely incidental.
“Voters Not Politicians is open to talking to anyone who’s working to seriously move forward on measures to increase ethics, transparency and accountability in government,” she said.
Progress Michigan is the leading funder of the initiative so far, Scott said, though the nonprofit group isn’t legally required to disclose its donors and doesn’t do so voluntarily.