Michigan Truth Squad: Bill Schuette’s stand on transparent government | Michigan Radio
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Michigan Truth Squad: Bill Schuette’s stand on transparent government

May 9, 2018

Republican gubernatorial candidates Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley have traded barbs in previous weeks over accusations of political showmanship and lack of conservative bonafides.

Now the question of whether both candidates have a plan to increase government accountability has taken to Twitter, where Schuette threw down the gauntlet over their transparency track records.

Schuette, who has called for increasing government transparency in his planks for months, tweeted on April 28: “I am the only candidate for the Republican nomination with a plan to make Lansing and state government more accountable.” Taxpayers, he added, “should get the most transparent government possible.”

Schuette’s original tweet was later deleted, which Schuette spokesman John Sellek wrote in an email can be chalked up to an “internal scheduling/posting issue.”

Calley quickly bit back with a response to Schuette’s tweet.

Regardless of who is proposing it, there’s room for improvement in state government accountability: Michigan has been ranked the worst state in the nation for government transparency, and as Bridge Magazine and others have revealed state lawmakers have been known to vote on bills when they have a personal conflict of interest. Michigan residents have overwhelmingly said they don’t trust politicians in Lansing.

Truth Squad finds that Schuette is not the only Republican gubernatorial candidate with a plan to make state government more accountable. He is, however, the only candidate actively promoting a comprehensive plan for government accountability. We rate his claim half accurate.

The claim:

The facts: Schuette has put forth a clear proposal for how he would like to increase transparency in Lansing. His eight-point plan promises a ban on gifts from lobbyists to elected officials, to make the governor and lieutenant governor’s offices and the legislature subject to state public record laws, to enact a personal financial disclosure requirement for legislators, impose a five-year ban on lobbying by former elected officials, and more.

“We are 100 percent behind our ethics and transparency plan, and we have seen no specific ethics or transparency plans proposed by any candidates nor have we found it on their websites nor have we seen stories or press releases from candidate campaigns,” spokesman Sellek wrote to Truth Squad in an email.

Schuette certainly is the most vocal Republican candidate supporting transparency reforms. Let’s look at what his rivals have done.

Last summer, Calley introduced a 10-point plan that would require legislators to disclose their financial interests, implement a required two-year “cooling-off period” for lawmakers who become lobbyists, make the governor’s office and legislative branch subject to FOIA and more.

One part of that plan was a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to make Michigan’s legislature part time. The part time legislature question will not make it to the ballot in November, but the other parts of the proposal live on through the initiative effort, Clean MI Government.

The Schuette campaign pointed to the collapse of the part-time legislature petition as an indicator that Calley does not have a proposed plan for increasing transparency. Plus, they note, he proposed Clean MI Government (and then turned over the initiative to someone else) before he announced his run for governor.

As Schuette’s campaign notes, there is no mention of government transparency proposals on Calley’s campaign website.

However, a spokesman for Calley told Truth Squad he still supports the reforms in the 10-point plan and that he “talks about the various elements of the plan repeatedly.” In March, the campaign released a statement calling on all candidates for governor to fill out federal ethics forms. He mentioned these proposed reforms again in December.

The campaign of another GOP candidate for governor, state Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton Township), indicated to the Detroit News in March that he supports expanding the state Freedom of Information Act to cover the governor’s office.

Colbeck’s spokeswoman Anne Schieber-Dykstra told Truth Squad Colbeck is “all for making the budget process transparent and holding government agencies accountable.” His website links to a budget transparency presentation. She said he still supports FOIA, but did not specify how he would or would not change it, and the subject is not addressed on his website.

In March, Saginaw-area doctor Jim Hines called for all elected officials to disclose their finances and report potential conflicts of interest.

“I will propose financial disclosure laws in my first state of the state address and will make sure they are passed by the legislature before the budget is passed for the year,” Hines wrote in a press release in response to a Bridge Magazine request for financial disclosures from candidates.

Hines’ spokesman David Doyle said the candidate has said for over a year that the legislature and executive branches should be subject to FOIA, including publicly at more than one of the gubernatorial town halls he has attended. A page on Hines’ campaign website notes Michigan’s transparency problem, but proposes no solutions.

Without a doubt, Schuette has outpaced his Republican rivals in making government transparency and accountability a central tenet of his run for governor. He’s consistently spoken and written about the topic since he announced his candidacy and he devotes a chunk of his campaign site to explaining his proposals, in contrast to the fleeting attention given the topic on his rivals’ sites.

But is Schuette the “only candidate for the Republican nomination with a plan” to increase government accountability? Not exactly. We rate his claim half accurate.