WSYM — Michigan is one of only two U.S. states with no law requiring members of and candidates for state-elected office disclose their financial records. Even members of U.S. Congress must undergo a disclosure process – but not Michigan lawmakers. That could change soon.
State Representatives David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids), Mark Huizenga (R-Walker), and Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) have sponsored an eight-bill package that would require lawmakers to make public their records on stock holdings, real estate investments and other personal business associations that could create a conflict of interest.
“To detect self-enrichment, you have to know what people’s sources of financial interests are,” said Representative LaGrand. “Voters have to have reason to believe the people they elect are representing the interests of the people and not their own interest.”
In a recent study done by the Center for Public Integrity, Michigan ranked dead last in the nation when it came to government transparency. Michigan is also one of only two U.S. states in which the governor and lawmakers are not subject to records requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
All state officials and candidates for legislative, executive, judicial and state education board jobs would be subject to the new disclosure laws. Representative LaGrand says it’s less about money in amounts and more about where the money is coming from. He pointed to the example of Rep. Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming), owner of Brann’s Steakhouse.
“He’s not hiding that; it’s not a secret; he’s proud of the fact that he owns a restaurant that’s got his name on it, and when Representative Brann speaks about concerns for his industry, it’s great that he can be a voice for it,” said Representative LeGrand. “It’s not that the sources of income are bad at all… it’s that the voters need the information…so that they can see if conflicts occur.”
Representative LaGrand says the disclosure documents would seek no more information than you’d give when you file taxes and is already encouraging his colleagues in the Michigan House to disclose their business associations, even if the bills do not pass.
“Relationships that are based on lies don’t work,” he said. “It doesn’t work in marriage, it doesn’t work in friendships, and there’s no reason to think it works in democracy.”