Michigan lawmakers OK financial disclosure rules; critics say they fall short
- Michigan will be the 49th state with financial disclosure rules for public officials if the bills are signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
- The bills passed in the Michigan House early Thursday morning with bipartisan support
- There was also bipartisan opposition, with critics arguing the bills don’t go far enough
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to soon sign legislation that would require Michigan officials to disclose personal financial information, reforms that fulfill constitutional mandates but fall short of what transparency advocates hoped to see.
The House on Thursday approved the legislation that was set in motion by Proposal 1, which was approved last fall by 66 percent of Michigan voters and required the Legislature to finalize financial disclosure rules by the end of the year. Proponents have argued that requiring such disclosures will help the public identify possible conflicts of interests if lawmakers are voting on bills they could personally benefit from.
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Enactment of the legislation would also mean Michigan will no longer be one of only two states without financial disclosure requirements.
A split Michigan House moved legislation early Thursday morning to codify those requirements, with supporters arguing that any step forward is an improvement on the current system, which doesn’t require financial disclosure at all.
“We worked in a bipartisan fashion to bring transparency and accountability to our state government, reflecting the wishes of our constituents,” House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, said in a statement following the late-night vote.
A coalition of House Democrats and Republicans opposed the plan in protest, arguing the new disclosure requirements are insufficient to root out corruption or conflicts of interest without stricter rules. The Senate had already approved the legislation, which Whitmer has said she supports.
Critics say the bills should also require disclosure of spousal assets and travel paid for by nonprofits or other non-lobbyists. But several amendments backed by ethics advocates of both parties in the House were rejected on the floor.
“Just as NASCAR drivers proudly display their sponsors, legislators should embrace full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest,” Rep. Jaime Greene, R-Richmond, said in a statement. “Transparency should be our badge of honor.”
The deal, which now returns to the Senate, requires state lawmakers, the governor, attorney general, secretary of state and candidates for those offices to disclose the source of any income or asset worth at least $1,000.
Filers would also be required to disclose their spouses' occupation and employers, but not separately held assets — a provision experts say would make Michigan’s plan significantly weaker than many other states. The bills also do not require disclosure for travel “junkets” paid for by nonprofits.
Both current Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, and former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, now a Republican senator from Holly, have said the plan leaves open too many loopholes.
Benson told lawmakers during the committee process the bills lack stiff penalties and enforcement options necessary to ensure compliance, saying “there's a lot more we need to do in order to truly make real the will of the voters.”
If lawmakers don’t finalize financial disclosure rules to comply with Proposal 1, courts could order lawmakers to draft new rules next year or potentially even impose the kind of disclosure rules congressional candidates and members are required to comply with.
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