House Passes Financial Disclosure Bill Bundle Critics Call ‘Illusion of Transparency’

House Passes Financial Disclosure Bill Bundle Critics Call ‘Illusion of Transparency’

Michigan is one of just two states that doesn’t require state lawmakers to disclose their financial interests. Neither the Legislature nor governor are subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Supporters of the package say the changes are a much-needed step toward greater transparency in state government, but some argue it doesn’t go far enough.

It’s a reality that has drawn national attention from transparency advocates. In 2015, the state was ranked dead last in judicial, legislative and executive accountability as part of a state integrity investigation by The Center for Public Integrity. A 2019 analysis by MLive of financial disclosure policies in all 50 states found that of the 48 states that currently require some form of asset disclosure, all but 15 post lawmakers’ responses in a searchable online database. Even in those states, members of the public seeking disclosure reports can obtain the documents via a public records request.

Under the current bills, lawmakers would be required to disclose financial interests, but the records wouldn’t be available to the public until a member is out of office. Instead, the records would be made available to an ethics committee made up of lawmakers. The committees would be exempt from the Open Meetings Act. No state with an existing financial disclosure policy prevents members of the public from viewing sitting lawmakers’ disclosure filings.

While both House Democrats and Republicans have agreed that greater oversight is needed to weed out potential conflicts of interest, critics of the current package point to the committee to which lawmakers would make their disclosures as a major flaw. READ MORE: Proposed financial disclosure bills wouldn’t make current lawmakers’ finances public

“Who do I want to have get information about politicians activities? The voters, the public and one of the conduits to do that is media. Anything that blocks the media and the general public from accessing information about governmental activities… That’s bad,” LaGrand said. The arrangement would have the potential to shroud information in secrecy, said Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids.

“Ethics in government is not a partisan issue. It’s not a political issue,” said Rep. Andrew Fink, R-Hillsdale, in a speech on the House floor. “It’s pre-political. It’s fundamental for us to do good policy work for the state. These bills can help us show the people that we can and do govern ethically, and that we can correct our own members when they fail to meet that standard.” LaGrand is hopeful his colleagues in the Senate will change the bills and said he respects the sincere efforts to improve ethics and transparency. LaGrand, who earlier this year reintroduced a bipartisan package with 63 cosponsors that would make financial disclosures public in line with practices currently employed by other states, said the bills passed Wednesday “aren’t a half step, but a step backwards.”

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