In the Mel Brooks comedy classic “History of the World Part l,” his Roman character Comicus is quoted: “Politics! Politics! Politics! – The Roman Senate is the best legislature money can buy; corruption starts with the little peddlers in the street. They bribe an assemblyman – the assemblyman bribes a captain – the captain bribes a senator and goes all the way up to the emperor!”
The movie, while funny at the time, strikes a similar note today in Michigan politics.
In 2022, campaign donations to Michigan lawmakers from you, me and our neighbors amounted to 11% of their campaign funds. That’s a pretty slim slice of the pie. Who makes up the balance? The answer is out-of-district PACs and donors with no available address. Who are these donors?
In the November 2022 election, 66.45% of Michigan voters supported Proposal 1 requiring better financial disclosure and transparency. But did it go far enough? Proposal 1 didn’t eliminate all of the loopholes that enable lawmakers to shift money around and they are not required to comply with the Freedom of Information Act allowing them to keep government information from public requests. Michigan currently ranks around 47th in the country as a state which has almost no independent oversight of elected officials.
Voting rights group Voters Not Politicians (VNP) is asking our legislators to support robust financial disclosures of personal and family financial interests for themselves, candidates and other public officers. This is a step to shining light on sources of outside income, including large investments, monetary gifts, free and reduced travel, meals and other gifts. VNP supports a ban on conflicts of interest, out-of-state lobbyists and civil appointments of lobbyists. They also support eliminating lobbyists’ gifts to public officials including staff in both the legislature and executive offices. VNP seeks expansion of the FOIA by removing the governor and legislators from exemption. VNP’s proposal includes strong enforcement and penalties with stiffer fees and fines for late filings of reports and non-compliance.
We deserve better. I still believe that here in our state, we have many honest and hard-working individuals representing the voters in good faith.
Call or email your district senator and representative and demand they take the necessary steps to bring Michigan’s government out of the shadows and into the light.
Voter indifference breeds corruption.
This op-ed was originally published by Monroe News. Read more here: https://www.monroenews.com/story/opinion/columns/2023/10/29/cynthia-vincent-candidate-disclosures-foia-michigan-freedom-of-information-reform/71336200007/