Michigan House Democrats aim to strengthen transparency

House Democrats in the state legislature unveiled a package of bills Thursday designed to increase transparency and accountability relating to money in politics.

The bills would require lawmakers and appointed officials to disclose their finances and would establish periods when former lawmakers and officials could become lobbyists.

House Democrats also proposed an amendment to Michigan's constitution requiring corporations to increase disclosure of lobbying and political activities and banning the state government from awarding contracts worth more than $100,000 to contractors and vendors who make political donations.

Central Michigan University Philosophy Professor Robert Stecker said these proposals are a step in the right direction to creating an ethical and transparent government.

"Complete public financing of elections would help," Stecker said. "Short of that, strong disclosure rules and restriction on going from public office to lobbying would be helpful."

Philosophy Professor Andrew Blom agreed.

"The biggest ethical problem in contemporary American politics, as I see it, is that we have effectively made corruption institutional by allowing monied interests to have so much influence in campaigning and, as a result, access in lobbying," Blom said in an email. "This is not a matter of individual ethics but of our very system of democracy."

Democrats hope their proposals will gain bipartisan support in Lansing. In his State of the State address in January, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder made transparency in government a priority for 2012.

"We should have more frequent and better disclosure of campaign contributions, and we should have stronger rules governing employment of people who negotiate state contracts while in government service,” Snyder said.

Snyder is under pressure from many outside groups to pass legislation to slow the "revolving door" in state politics. This refers to when politicians leave government to work for private companies that may have benefitted from policies they passed or advocated.

One watchdog group, Common Cause Michigan, recently unveiled a new website featuring a clock counting the days, hours, minutes and seconds since the governor called for ethics reform.

"We, the people of the State of Michigan, declare that we have a right to know when corporations spend money to influence elections or government officials so that we can make informed decisions and hold our leaders accountable," the group said on its website.


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