The Center for Public Integrity recently released a report called “State Integrity 2015” which looked at the level of transparency in the governments of all 50 states. The results were, well, horrific. Only three states received a grade about a D+.
Michigan, however, stood out and not in a good way. Out of all 50 states, Michigan came in at 50th place. We literally have the least transparent state government in the entire country.
Here are some highlights of their report:
- Thanks to loopholes created by the legislature, big spenders representing special interests can dramatically influence an election without leaving a trace.
- High-rollers in many states exert undue influence over legislation and executive orders. But in Michigan, campaign cash also taints the judicial system.
- The dark money that dominates Michigan politics takes on another definition in the daily workings of state courts, the legislature, the governor’s office and cabinet members. That’s because the state doesn’t require officials to disclose their financial holdings and outside income.
- Another example of the lack of transparency in Michigan government is that the Legislature long ago exempted itself and the governor’s office from the state Freedom of Information Act.
- The state lacks a strong “revolving door” law that prevents elected officials and key executive branch administrators from going directly out of a government post and into a job at a lobbying firm. The only restriction in the books prohibits lawmakers from lobbying immediately if they resign before the end of their terms in office.
- The state Ethics Board serves largely as an obscure, toothless agency that does not investigate wrongdoing and, when it does find a violation, merely recommends a punishment to the guilty employee’s department.
Progress Michigan has launched a new effort to try to bring some semblance of transparency to our government by creating a website where voters can easily look up information about their elected officials including where their donations are coming from and how much money is being given to them. Progress Michigan Lonnie Scott describes the new initiative, called “The Sunshine Squad“, in this way:
Our elected officials in the legislature have gotten away with shielding themselves from public scrutiny for too long. This campaign will shine some light on their actions and who is putting money into their campaign coffers. The Sunshine Squad’s goal is to promote transparency, increase public disclosure and to hold our state lawmakers accountable. The launch of the website today is only the beginning.
The site is actually a bit addictive. The front page has two buttons: “House Committees” and “Senate Committees”. These are linked to pages that have the full list of legislative committees. Click on one of them and you are taken to a list of the state legislators sitting on those committees. From there you can delve deep into the legislator’s committee assignments, donors, and eventually you’ll be able to track their votes on bills they have voted on.
So, the next time you’re reading about a state legislator who took a vote you dislike, pop over to “The Sunshine Squad site” and see what’s driving them. Chances are good they are receiving enormous amounts of money from the groups most likely to benefit from their vote.
Michigan has a very long way to go in terms of transparency in state government but “The Sunshine Squad” is a big step in the right direction. Check it out.