Why don’t Michiganders trust government? Let’s count the ways.

2018 Michigan Solutions Summit on Good Government Trust in Government panel

Bridge reporter Riley Beggin moderates a panel on redistricting, campaign finance, and trust in government at the Michigan Good Government Solutions Summit on March 14, 2018.

Why don’t Michiganders trust government? Where to start?

Both the governor and Legislature are exempt from state open records laws. Lawmakers from both parties are accused of drawing district boundaries to their advantage. More money than is funneling into campaigns and lobbying, and tracking its source can be difficult

“People feel like they’re being frozen out of the process,” said Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, which tracks money in politics.

Issue Guide: Despite low trust of gov't, Michigan legislators have done little to change 
Issue Guide: 2018 Michigan ballot initiatives may decide marijuana, gerrymandering​

That was one takeaway from a panel discussion Wednesday during a Michigan Solutions Summit in East Lansing from The Center for Michigan.  Other panelists included Katie Fahey of the Voters Not Politicians group, Joe Richotte,a Michigan Press Association attorney, and Republican political consultant  Jeff Timmer, Managing Partner.

Related: 2018 Michigan Solution Summits ‒ Reserve your seat today!
Related: Be a part of the 2018 Michigan Truth Tour​

Here are highlights of their discussion.

Redrawing legislative district lines

Fahey is leading a ballot measure to ask voters in November to change how legislative district lines are drawn. The plan would give the task to a panel representing both major political parties and independent voters, rather than the majority party in power.

She said the panel would be “accountable to thousands of people who are watching them do this job.”

“You actually get people acting better,” she said.

Timmer countered that Michigan’s political process already requires the districts to be drawn to reflect population and existing political boundaries –  and the proposed reform could have the opposite intended effect.

“We’re going to find that there’s more politics, more bare-knuckles politics, involved in the redistricting process if this were to pass than has happened before,” he said.

Accessing government records

Only two states exempt the governor’s office, lieutenant governor’s office and Legislature from the Freedom of Information Act. Michigan’s status as one was exposed during the Flint Water Crisis.

“You have a group of people who have to decide whether they’re going to open up the doors and the cupboards, and they’re happy to keep them closed,” Richotte said.

A package of bills to expand the law unanimously passed the House in March 2017, but has stalled in the Senate. Both chambers are led by Republicans.

Dark money

Mauger said the 10 most-expensive state House races in 2016 cost $11.5 million, compared to $3.7 million in 2002. The amount spent by interest groups to lobby politicians also has increased over the same period, he said.

He noted that more spending is coming from groups that operate independently of political candidates, whose donors can be hard to track — so-called “dark money.”

Timmer said laws exist to allow residents to follow the money.

“Voters can decide for themselves if they like the fact that a candidate is spending a lot of money, or not spending a lot of money,” he said.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Frank Booth
Mon, 07/09/2018 - 4:17pm

Pretty LAME answer from Timmer regarding "dark money". Wouldn't it be so much more logical to have all the amounts and SOURCES of monies attached to a candidate's name. Then there would be no mysteries.