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Political roundup: MI could soon be only state to not mandate financial disclosures from lawmakers

Michigan Municipal League
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
Inside the state Capitol building.

Another example of Michigan’s lack of government transparency was pointed out this week.

The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity looked into and found examples around the country of state lawmakers voting on bills that ended up benefiting their own business interests.

The AP reported in 47  states, those conflicts of interest were easily found. That's because, almost everywhere, lawmakers had to disclose their occupation, income, or business associations. That’s real transparency.

Michigan does not require those disclosures. 

In its Friday political roundup, Stateside host Lester Graham discussed this issue with Ken Sikkema, senior policy fellow with Public Sector Consultants and a former Republican majority leader in state Senate, and Vicki Barnett, a former Mayor of Farmington Hills and a former Democratic legislator.

Listen to the full conversation above, or read highlights below.

On what Republicans in the legislature have said

KEN SIKKEMA: Well, I think, you know, there have been discussions about this for a long time. The earliest discussions that I remember were in the early 90s when I was still in the state House.

And I think a good question, and a fair question, is why haven’t legislative leaders, particularly Republican leaders, advanced this over the years? And the answer is it’s not because they think it’s a particularly bad idea, they just think the need for financial disclosure has been exaggerated, frankly, and that the positive impacts have been exaggerated…. On top of that, I think they then feel a little stampeded into doing it and so they’ve resisted over the years … rather than just sort of acquiesce. So, I think that frankly is the reason why it hasn’t happened.

On what Democrats in the legislature have said

VICKI BARNETT: We introduced a package of bills in 2009. We introduced them again in 2011, and we introduced them again in 2013 when I was in the Legislature. And they included several things. One was a financial disclosure statement. This went a little further than I think was necessary.

But certainly if you run for Congress, and you run for federal office, you have to disclose your financial interests so that people know that you may be voting on something where you own a major stake. For example, in Michigan we’re home to the automakers and it would be highly likely that a Ford, General Motors, or Chrysler employee would be serving in the state legislature and be voting on things that impact the auto industry. And that should be disclosed. We should certainly know that. If you own a lot of shares of AT&T and you vote on AT&T bills, we should know that. But that’s been turned down every time we introduced it.

But there’s a lot of other things that deal with transparency that Michigan has avoided dealing with, including Freedom of Information Act requests for the state Legislature. Those bills finally did pass the House this year, for both the Legislature and for the governor and the executive branch, but they’re sitting in the Senate and the Senate majority leader has promised no action on those bills.

For the full conversation, listen above.

Ken Sikkema and Vicki Barnett join Stateside every Friday to break down the week’s political news.

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