State Integrity Investigation

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Improving “customer service” in Michigan: Comprehensive ethics package proposed

Governor Rick Snyder thinks the state of Michigan has some unfinished business. In his Jan. 18 State of the State address, Snyder (pictured, right) told the legislature that 2011 was a good year for the state, but said 2012 should be dedicated to “really making this year about good government.”

 “It’s not about ‘big government’ or ‘small government,’” Snyder said. “It’s about good government, government doing the right thing for the right reasons, and giving you, our citizens, great customer service.”

Without going into great detail, Snyder laid out a plan to reform state laws on lobbying, campaign finance and ethics regulations.  A statement calling for “more frequent and better disclosure of campaign contributions” and greater scrutiny of state contracting resulted in sustained applause from almost the entire legislature. And apparently, just after they stopped clapping, Democratic legislators took out their pens.

Earlier this month, the Democratic caucus announced an ambitious plan to overhaul state ethics and campaign finance laws. In total, the package includes 16 separate bills and one constitutional amendment which cover a range of issues, including lobbying, financial disclosure of elected officials, and increased transparency in campaign advertising.

Several pieces of the proposal had previously made it through the state House of Representatives with bipartisan support only to die in the senate, said State  Representative Kate Segal. According to Segal (pictured, right) Snyder’s pronouncements at the State of the State helped inspire renewed attempts at reform.

“We’re hoping to have the governor’s support in pushing this forward,” Segal said. “It is long overdue for the state of Michigan.”

Segal blames the legislature’s continued inactivity on the sheer number of bills. The 16 bills will progress one at a time, and Segal said the Democratic caucus is willing to work with their Republican colleagues “to make them stronger.”

One bill would force greater transparency in “robo-calls,” the commonly employed tool that keeps potential voters’ phones buzzing with automated messages in the days before a referendum or an election. Under the proposed reform, a robo-call message would need to state the name of the organization that funded the call.

The proposed constitutional amendment, included with the bills in the reform package, would increase lobbying and political donation disclosure of corporations, and ban the awarding of $100,000-plus contracts to vendors which have made political donations.  While more demanding than simply changing a law – a constitutional amendment requires passage by a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate and ratification by Michigan voters – Segal said the change is a way to restrict the influence of the “millions and now billions being spent in our elections.”

“I have constituents say to me, ‘How am I going to make a difference without that kind of money?’” Segal said. “I think what these bills do, they say, yes there’s money in elections, but they allow constituents to find out where the money is coming from.”


Filed under ethics michigan politics rick snyder Transparency open government Campaign Finance lobby disclosure