LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) — Twelve Michigan lawmakers, nearly a tenth of the state Legislature, reported having no financial assets or investments under a new policy intended to enhance transparency in state government. This new policy, enacted following a 2022 ballot proposal, requires lawmakers to disclose financial interests, including personal savings accounts over $1,000, properties, investments, and outside income.

Despite these requirements, a Detroit News investigation found significant discrepancies. Rep. Nate Shannon (D-Sterling Heights) reported no property ownership, even though tax records show he co-owns a home valued at $162,400. Shannon cited a possible technological error and pledged to amend his report. Similarly, Rep. Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo) reported a home mortgage but did not disclose property ownership, despite county records showing she owns a home with her husband.

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Critics, including former Michigan Chamber of Commerce President Rich Studley and transparency advocates, argue that the current regulations are insufficient. They highlight the lack of mandatory disclosures for spousal assets and travel expenses funded by non-lobbyists, creating potential loopholes. 

“It’s very difficult not to be surprised and disappointed at what a remarkably poor job the Legislature did at implementing the proposal,” Studley said.

Several lawmakers also failed to report accurate details about gifts and travel paid for by lobbyists. 

For instance, Rep. Alabas Farhat (D-Dearborn) provided vague information about receiving food and drinks from lobbyists, even though lobbyists documented significant expenditures. Additionally, five lawmakers, including Rep. Bob Bezotte (R-Howell), did not list any food or drinks paid for by lobbyists, despite records showing these expenses.

Bezotte and others acknowledged discrepancies and planned to amend their disclosures. Bezotte, for example, was unaware that tickets to a Michigan State University football event would be reported as an expense by a lobbyist.

Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) a key sponsor of the disclosure policy, acknowledged the need to refine the process based on the first round of submissions. The Secretary of State’s office, responsible for overseeing filings, can impose fines up to $2,000 for knowingly inaccurate reports.

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The lack of specifics in these disclosures, however, makes it difficult to draw comprehensive conclusions about the financial status of Michigan’s legislators. They were not required to report their exact earnings from jobs outside the Legislature, the value of their assets, or the extent of their liabilities. According to The Detroit News, of the 146 lawmakers who filed reports, 27% had additional jobs, 5% had outstanding student loans, and 62% had mortgages.

While the new financial disclosure rules represent progress for Michigan, these gaps and discrepancies have led to concerns about the effectiveness of the law in preventing conflicts of interest.