LANSING, Mich. (MIRS News) – Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson asked a legislative panel Thursday to give her department subpoena power to investigate campaign finance or lobbying law violations as a way to help bring Michigan from “worst to first” in government transparency and ethics requirements.
As part of a sweeping proposal that also includes stricter civil and criminal penalties, Benson proposed including high-level staff in the state’s lobbying law so any gifts they receive from lobbyists are subject to the same disclosure requirements as elected officials.
Speaking to the House Ethics and Oversight Committee, Benson said expanding disclosure requirements would also need candidates and voters to be educated and equipped with the resources to comply, Benson said.
While bad actors do intentionally skirt the laws, many don’t realize a certain filing is due and are faced with non-compliance consequences.
“The job of the Bureau of Elections is educating candidates on the ways in which compliance can be met and the consequences that are felt if compliance is not,” Benson said.
Benson said disclosure requirements don’t cause “good people” to not get involved in politics. Public funding that amplifies citizen influence in the policymaking process can eliminate some of the politics of money.
Rep. Jaime CHURCHES (D-Wyandotte) said her experience as a candidate was one of the most inaccessible things she’s ever had to do. The candidate she ran against was independently wealthy and had fewer than 300 donors to his campaign, while she had just under 8,000.
Churches said she thinks stakeholders who think their campaign contributions don’t have influence are being disingenuous.
“How are we going to ensure that the checks and balances with contribution amounts and gifts given is appropriate and supportive to ensure that the people that have this honorable job are able to stay true to our constituents?” Churches said.
Benson said replicating transparency of influence requirements that other states have is a pathway to keep legislators executing the will of their constituencies.
“Every single one of you represents a community of people who sent you here to do their work, and we all have a responsibility to build a system that rewards that,” Benson said.
Benson said the enforcing body of disclosure requirements needs the ability to subpoena information about complaints to determine if a violation has occurred, collection authority for civil penalties such as fines, and criminal penalties for egregious intentional violations. Candidates need to be fully informed about those consequences by requiring them to read and sign a statement that acknowledges that they’re aware of criminal sanctions or culpability if there is a violation.