Michigan Senate makes progress on transparency reforms for elected officials

By Kyle Kaminski

November 2, 2023

Legislation passed by the state Senate would require some elected officials and candidates for public office—as well as their spouses—to tell voters about their assets and income.

MICHIGAN—More than 2.8 million Michiganders made it clear that they want a much more transparent state government when they voted last year to pass Proposal 1 to amend the state Constitution and create new financial disclosure requirements for statewide elected officials.

And with the clock ticking to pass legislation that would enact those reforms into law before the end of the year, the state Senate this week advanced a series of bills that are set to do just that. 

The four bills were sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), Mark Huizenga (R-Walker), and Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Township), and they aim to improve governmental transparency by requiring elected officials and candidates to disclose their assets and income above certain thresholds, as well as their spouse’s employment status.

The requirements would apply to the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and all state legislators—as well as candidates running for any of those offices—to help give voters a better understanding of personal motivations and potentially conflicting interests.

Lawmakers said the bills—which passed by a nearly unanimous vote this week—demonstrate a bipartisan commitment to accountability in Lansing, and mark a significant milestone in a years-long struggle to bolster transparency among Michigan’s elected officials. They would also bring Michigan in line with the 48 states that already have similar reporting requirements.

“The voters demanded transparency, and we happen to agree with them,” Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) said in a statement on Wednesday. “Measures to shine light on the state legislature and those who serve here are long overdue.”

Proposal 1, which was passed by 66% of voters last November, modified term limits to allow lawmakers to serve up to 12 years in the state House or Senate. It also required the state Legislature to impose new transparency requirements by 2024—and it enabled any resident to initiate a legal challenge against the state government if they’re not enacted by Dec. 31, 2023.

Lawmakers said the legislation passed this week fulfills the will of the voters—and goes a step further by requiring elected officials to disclose every source of income over $1,000, as well as assets held for investment, debts, positions held in organizations, and future employment deals.

Under the bills, elected officials would be required to disclose their spouse’s occupation. The bills would also extend those financial reporting requirements to candidates for public office, so that voters can vet potential conflicts of interests before they head to the polls. 

“As lawmakers, we must hold ourselves to a standard of accountability. Putting forth legislation that will require certain candidates for state elective office to file financial disclosure reports fully demonstrates our commitment to prioritizing transparency and restoring trust,” Singh said in a statement. “Legislation like this has the power to change the way people view state government and their elected state leaders—and we are moving in a new, positive direction.” 

If passed by the state House and signed into law, the new rules would take effect on April 15. Penalties for violations would include civil fines of up to $2,000, according to the legislation. 

Some lawmakers criticized the bills for not going far enough—namely because they don’t specifically require the disclosure of the income and assets of an elected official’s spouse, or extend to other statewide elected officials who are not in the legislature or executive offices.

The House delayed a vote on the bills on Wednesday amid calls for even tougher regulations, including full disclosure of paid travel and spousal assets, reports Bridge Michigan

Brinks emphasized that the bills are only the “first step” in statewide transparency reforms.

“This move towards transparency is a significant achievement in our ongoing efforts to make legislators accountable to the public,” Moss added. “Proposal 1 isn’t the end; it’s the start of much-needed transparency laws in Michigan. It reflects our years-long goal of enacting Michigan’s first financial disclosure law—revealing conflicts of interest among lawmakers.” 

READ MORE: Michigan Takes Baby Steps Toward More Open Government

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Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

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