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Lawmakers keeping lawmakers honest?

The coronavirus is not the only illness that has invaded our state.

A sorrowful and disheartening lack of trust in our political system is also on life support, if the polling data is correct.

For example, 40% still believe Joe Biden is not a legally elected president. Within recent memory, a Gallup survey revealed 75% believe government is corrupt.

Against that backdrop, state lawmakers who are not in the pokey are engaged in trying to reduce conflicts of interest whereby a legislator could vote on legislation that would profit his or her business.

Under the current law, every legislator who has a conflict is supposed to disclose that during debate and then sit down and not vote. The only fly in that ointment is that, if they don’t disclose, there is no penalty, and, conveniently, there is no manner of knowing that they broke the law in the first place, because there is no record of their conflict.

Reason?

There is no public depository where lawmakers must reveal their business and other potential conflicts of interests, and, since the honor system may not work, four years ago, four legislators called for mandatory financial disclosure.

They are still trying, and, while their numbers have grown to 63 — mostly Democrats — the new law is not.

Those legislators drafted an eight-bill package to raise public confidence that folks in this town are not feathering their nest, but out of nowhere last week came an “edited and re-introduced” version of their original proposal.

Needless to say, state Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, one of the charter members of this “let’s clean up government club,” was shocked and dismayed.

He reports the new version of the proposal would create a secret panel of two Republicans and two Democrats and each lawmaker would submit to them their financial information. That certainly meets the definition of financial disclosure, but “it’s toxic,” Mr. LeGrand argues.

The four-lawmaker panel would not be subject to the Michigan Open Meetings Act, so he labels the proposal “fraudulent and hypothetical, (because), if we don’t disclose to the public and press, it’s not disclosure.”

Furthermore, he sees the possibility that the four lawmakers, with the wealth of information on every other lawmaker, might be tempted to erode the public trust even more by attempting to use that data to blackmail their colleagues.

“They have super powers, and could go to a lawmaker and say, ‘it would be a shame if we opened an investigation on you. Now, would you like to support my other item over here?,'” LeGrand suggests.

The Senate majority leader, Republican Mike Shirkey, is no fan of the original package, as he is fearful the news media would have a field day pawing over all the financial data of 148 legislators. So it looks like the rewritten package meets some of his concerns, since it is secret — but Shirkey has not claimed ownership.

Rep. LeGrand is not impressed.

“Claiming you’ve made progress,” he said, “that’s whitewashing. That is taking a step backwards. No matter what kind of spin you put on it, it is not disclosure to the public. It’s a lie … This is not a compromise.”

Supporters of the alternative proposal could argue it’s better than nothing, but, if it doesn’t restore the public trust, some opponents might say, why bother?

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