Reforms take aim at special interests, financial disclosure, strengthen FOIA

LANSING – In order to strengthen transparency and make public officials more accountable to the people they represent, House and Senate Democrats today used the beginning of Sunshine Week to announce a package of bills to reform government, apply the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the governor’s office and Legislature, require elected officials to disclose their income and investments and shut the revolving door between lobbying groups and public officials.  Sunshine Week, March 15-21, is the annual celebration of access to public information.

“The public has a right to know that legislators, the governor and top administration officials have their best interests in mind when they enact policy rather than looking out for their own financial gain or the gain of friends, family or political allies,” said House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills).  “Unfortunately, given Michigan’s lack of transparency and accountability, people are left wondering. That’s why Democrats in the House and Senate are introducing a plan to increase transparency and accountability ensuring that officials in Lansing are accountable to the people they serve.”

The Michigan Government Reform and Accountability Plan will:

  • Require personal financial disclosure of elected officials and top officials in the administration in order to prevent conflicts of interests.
  • End the revolving door between lawmakers and lobbying firms by prohibiting legislators from becoming lobbyists for two years after leaving office.
  • Expand the Freedom of Information Act to include the governor’s office and the Legislature.
  • Prohibit the awarding of a state contract worth more than $100,000 to anyone who makes a contribution to officials who award those contracts.

The Center for Public Integrity gave Michigan an F for accountability after their investigation of all 50 states looking at indicators such as public access to records, political financing and legislative accountability. Michigan is one of a handful of states that exempt the governor’s office and the Legislature from the Freedom of Information Act. This lack of transparency has led to several high profile examples of abuse inside the Snyder administration and in the Legislature.

“State government should be open, accessible and most of all accountable to the people we serve,” said State Senator Steve Bieda (D-Warren). “It is hard for us as legislators to earn and maintain the public’s trust when we currently have so many laws to skirt it, but the bills we are introducing this week will help fix that.”

“The Freedom of Information Act is the public’s primary tool to ensure that their government is acting in their best interest,” said State Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids). “It’s unreasonable and unethical that lawmakers and the governor are exempt from the very same Freedom of Information Act law that they expect every other government worker to comply with.  It’s essential that we restore public trust by making the governor’s office and the Legislature subject to the Freedom of Information Act just as government officials in many other states are.”

Michigan is also one of just a few states with weak or non-existent “cooling off” periods before legislators and top administration officials can take jobs with powerful lobbying firms, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.

“The citizens of Michigan should be able to expect that legislators in Lansing, as well as officials in the governor’s administration, are serving them and not lining up their next job with lobbying firms,” said State Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline).  “Michigan needs a cooling off period between public service and lobbying for legislators and government officials in order to put the public’s interest first instead of special interests.”

The Democratic plan announced today also includes tough new financial disclosure requirements that are modeled after Federal rules and would make the earnings and investments of elected and top Administration officials public.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Michigan is one of only three states that do not require financial disclosure from its elected officials.

“Public service is a privilege, not a right,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint).  “The people we serve need to have faith that when a vote is cast, or new policies are developed, it is with their best interests in mind and not done for personal financial gain. Right now, people are completely in the dark about whether a serious conflict of interest exists because of Michigan’s weak disclosure requirements. This common-sense legislation will make sure potential conflicts of interest are avoided by making public the earnings and finances of elected officials and top cabinet members.”

Democrats say that Sunshine Week marks the beginning of a series of government reforms announcements with more coming in the weeks ahead. To engage citizens and draw attention to Michigan’s current lack of “sunshine,” Michigan Democrats also launched an interactive quiz on government transparency at letmishine.com.

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