Only five of nine candidates who filed to run for Michigan governor this year have released their 2017 tax returns, as requested by Bridge Magazine.
Shri Thanedar — the Ann Arbor businessman who has infused nearly $6 million of his own money into his Democratic campaign for governor — did not share his 2017 returns or any other financial information by the Monday deadline set by Bridge. Reached by phone, Thanedar said he was in a meeting but would not be releasing information Monday. He did not say why.
A second major candidate, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, said through a spokesman he could not yet share his 2017 taxes because he filed for an IRS extension. Spokesman John Sellek said Schuette seeks an extension “every year,” and indicated his tax return will likely be made public by the end of the month.
The two Libertarian Party candidates, Bill Gelineau and John Tatar, also declined to release returns, noting that there is no requirement to disclose financial information beyond what campaign finance law demands.
Increased transparency in state politics — including politicians’ personal finances — has become a drumbeat on the 2018 Michigan campaign trail. All seven of the major-party candidates to succeed Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, Thanedar included, said they supported more candidate financial disclosure when they appeared at a forum earlier in May at the Michigan Press Association convention.
Currently, neither the Michigan governor’s office nor the state Legislature is subject to the state Freedom of Information Act.
Twice this election year, Bridge has requested commonly accepted financial information from gubernatorial candidates — including tax returns, earned income and money received from such things as gifts, travel and real estate.
This month, Bridge asked the nine candidates for governor — four Republicans, three Democrats and two Libertarians — who filed petitions to appear on the Aug. 7 primary ballot to disclose their 2017 returns and other financial details based on what is currently required of federal officeholders.
That followed an earlier Bridge request, made in February, to what was then 19 candidates campaigning ahead of the April filing deadline.
In this second round, Bridge gave the candidates two weeks, until Monday, May 21, to disclose 2017 financial information, including their latest tax returns that were due in April.
The five major-party candidates releasing 2017 federal tax returns Monday were Democrats Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul El-Sayed, and Republicans Patrick Colbeck, Brian Calley and Jim Hines. All but Whitmer filed their federal returns jointly with their spouses; Whitmer did not release her husband’s return.
While Schuette did not file tax returns, he did disclose documents related to his real estate holdings, information not previously disclosed to Bridge.
Government transparency lacking
Michigan has been ranked the least transparent state in the nation.
Compared with other states, Michigan is significantly more secretive about campaign money in politics, public records and potential ethical conflicts, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan investigative news organization that conducts research on government transparency nationwide. That means it is more difficult for Michigan voters to know who, or what, is influencing their politicians or political candidates.
- 2018 Michigan Facts & Issue Guide: “Despite low trust of gov't, Michigan legislators have done little to change”
- Center for Michigan: “Fractured Trust: Lost Faith in State Government and How to Restore It”
- Center for Public Integrity: “Michigan Gets F Grade in 2015 State Integrity Investigation”
- In Lansing, where potentially self-serving votes run ‘rampant’
The request for candidates’ financial information is part of Bridge Magazine and the Center for Michigan’s effort to highlight issues and facts in the 2018 election to ensure voters have the information they need to make informed choices for governor and other elected offices.
Today, we update candidates’ self-reporting on finances. Going forward, Bridge will seek additional information from these records to assess whether any candidates have potential conflicts that could emerge through policy positions or actions while in office.
What we did
Bridge’s request was fashioned from long-established federal disclosure requirements for the president and vice president, members of Congress, federal candidates, some senior congressional staffers, nominees to positions in the executive branch, Cabinet members and Supreme Court justices.
We asked the nine candidates for their and their spouse’s 2017 income tax returns, as well as any new information about income, assets and other payments received since the last time we requested the information.
We also repeated our request to candidates who previously did not disclose information to do so.
In the two rounds of requests, Bridge sought:
- The candidate’s and spouse’s 2016 and 2017 income tax returns
- Earned income over $1,000 in 2017 for candidate and spouse
- Any payment in 2017 over $500 for speeches, articles, appearances and other events, including honoraria paid to a charity of their choice
- Assets worth more than $1,000 or that produced more than $1,000 of income in 2017, including securities, real estate holdings, business ownership and loans owed to the filer
- Travel and travel-related reimbursements over $500 from official business
- Gifts over $500 in 2017
Read the links below for details about what the candidates disclosed, by party and in alphabetical order.