Push on for ethics, full financial disclosure

October 3, 2009
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LANSING — Michigan’s ethics and financial disclosure requirements for politicians and candidates are too loose, according to some Republican officials. The state budget is the most pressing issue, but greater transparency in government is equally important, they say.

Both Republicans and Democrats say they support the idea of more openness but accuse each other of blocking passage.

Attorney Gen. Mike Cox has proposed requiring state and local officials, candidates for office and their immediate family members to disclose their personal finances and gifts from lobbyists. He also called for tightening the requirement that legislators abstain from voting when they have conflicts of interest.

Cox, a Republican who is considering a 2010 campaign for governor, proposed that office holders, state officials and directors of state departments who make more than $65,000 per year, and candidates for office annually report gifts and reimbursements from lobbyists when their total value exceeds $250 per year, per lobbyist.

“I’m tired of Michigan being last economically. I’m tired of Michigan being last ethically,” said Cox.

Rep. Darwin Booher said, “I’m not afraid to open things up,” but added, “Why should I have to show family incomes?” The Evart Republican was referring to the proposal that would release spouses’ finances.

Booher said ethics legislation should be passed this fall after the budget is sealed.

Michigan is one of only three states that doesn’t require financial disclosure by their political officials, Vermont and Idaho being the others, according to Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Robinson says the legislation addresses a big gap in ethics law.

There is resistance to the proposal because finances are considered private and personal, but Robinson says there may be problems with politicians buying and selling certain property and buying certain stock.

Transparency is key in running an honest government, according to Robinson.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, has introduced an ethics bill that would provide that “a legislator shall not vote on a bill with which he or she has a conflict of interest and shall state that fact on the record prior to abstaining from voting.”

Co-sponsors are Sens. Judson Gilbert, R- Algonac; Wayne Kuipers, R- Holland; Patricia Birkholz, R-Saugatuck; Jim Barcia, D-Bay City; and Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing.

The bill is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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