FOIA, financial disclosure, campaign finance reforms, and more all on new Democratic majorities’ To Do List to improve transparency and public accountability
LANSING, Mich. (March 13, 2023) — Today, Sen. Jeremy Moss (D–Southfield) and state officials kicked off Sunshine Week and outlined some of their priorities to increase government transparency, including implementing the voter-passed financial disclosure proposal and making progress on FOIA reform. Sunshine Week is recognized yearly to raise awareness about accessibility and transparency in government, as well as the value and role the free press plays in our democracy.
“I’ve been a staunch transparency advocate during Sunshine Week year after year, but it hits a little different now as Chair of the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee. I feel the weight of this new responsibility and am prepared to deliver,” Sen. Moss said. “As with our other policy priorities that legislative Democrats have moved quickly to enact, we built a Wish List of important government accountability reforms over many years. We finally have the opportunity to implement them, and lawmakers are working closely together to make that happen.”
“While the interest in these reforms may not be new, the ability to actually achieve them certainly is, especially as abuses of power and ethical questions continue to arise related to previous Legislatures and administrations,” Sen. Moss added.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, Michigan ranks dead last among all states in the nation when it comes to ethics, accountability and transparency in government operations. Sen. Moss has been particularly committed to promoting both the concept and principles of Sunshine Week, introducing legislation to increase transparency in every session of his service in the state Legislature, going on nine years in the Capitol.
Freedom of Information Act
Sen. Moss’ top priority in the past and in the coming months is expanding the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Michigan is one of only two states that does not allow FOIA to apply to the executive and legislative branches of state government, placing Michiganders in the worst position in the nation to learn about and understand the decisions of their state government.
In previous legislative sessions, attempts by Sen. Moss to subject the Legislature and Governor to open records requests made steady progress – getting out of the House chamber and even past Senate committee—but always stalled under Republican majorities. Working with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and open records advocates, the new Senate Democratic majority will push for landmark transparency policy to finally be signed into law.
Sen. Moss, along with Sen. Ed McBroom (R–Vulcan), is a two-time recipient of the Michigan Press Association’s “Sunshine Award” for these efforts.
As part of Proposal 1 of 2022 to change term limits for state legislators, the initiative will also require elected state legislative and state executive officials to file annual financial disclosure reports on their income, assets, liabilities, gifts from lobbyists, positions held in certain organizations, and agreements on future employment. The proposal was supported by more than 2.8 million Michiganders—an overwhelming majority of voters (66 percent).
The Michigan Legislature is charged with crafting the legislation to implement the proposal and the Senate will work with House counterparts to enact these reforms. Currently, Michigan is one of only two states without a financial disclosure law.
“Financial disclosure among legislators is key to greater transparency. Michiganders have every right to know potential conflicts of interest among their representatives so they can assess their actions and their votes accordingly,” said Rep. Erin Byrnes (D–Dearborn), chair of the House Ethics and Oversight Committee. “It is time to shine a light on this critical component of accountability that for years has been shrouded in mystery in Lansing.”
Campaign Finance and Election Reform
Transparency and ethics policy priorities also include campaign finance reform and shining a light on dark money—contributions from undisclosed donors—in our politics. In the past, Republican majorities instead headed in the opposite direction, accelerating and increasing political giving. Sen. Moss, as a former member of the House Elections and Ethics committee, previously fought against Republican-led efforts that blurred the needed divisions between candidate committee fundraising and Super PAC fundraising.
“I am proud to be working with Sen. Moss on legislation to move our state from worst to first in transparency. Citizens deserve to know how their elected leaders fund their campaigns and are motivated by personal financial interests, and I am hopeful lawmakers will move legislation forward to make our government work better for all Michiganders,” said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
Recent scandals and investigations have also amplified the call to examine how elected officials operate non-profit fundraising vehicles for political gain.
“Our residents have to be able to trust their elected officials will work for them, not the well-moneyed interests bankrolling them from the shadows,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “Michigan is in desperate need of commonsense campaign finance laws to ensure that information regarding the donors who back our state’s election ads, ballot initiatives, and candidate campaigns is being disclosed to voters. I look forward to working with Sen. Moss and others in the Legislature during Sunshine Week and beyond to help shine a light on the dark money being spent in Michigan politics.”