Voters could decide government transparency initiative that includes sweeping lobbying restrictions

By: - January 23, 2020 12:36 pm

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Updated, 12:52 p.m., 1/23/19 with comments from Voters Not Politicians

A coalition of liberal groups on Thursday filed language with the Board of Canvassers for a constitutional amendment aimed at increasing transparency in government and reducing the power of lobbyists in the state.

Michigan is frequently ranked as having some of the weakest ethics and transparency laws in the country. Voters in 2020 could make significant changes if they approve the newly proposed ballot initiative. 

Lansing-based Progress Michigan is part of the Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes, which filed the language. Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said the ballot drive shouldn’t be viewed as partisan.

“This is not about one political party or one issue area,” Scott said. “We need to hold lawmakers and lobbyists, on both sides of the aisle and across the state to a high standard of trust and transparency.”

The group would need to collect at least 425,059 valid signatures by July 9 to get the proposed constitutional amendment on the November general election ballot.

If approved by voters, the ballot initiative would:

  • Ban lobbyists and their clients from giving gifts – including meals, drinks, and trips – to public officials
  • Ban “contingency pay” for lobbyists, where the lobbyists only get paid if they are successful in their lobbying efforts
  • Create a two-year cooling off period before public officials could become lobbyists after leaving office
  • Require public officials and lobbyists to keep a public record of communications with each other
  • Require any public communications urging the general public to influence public officials to include information identifying the sponsor

Public officials covered by the proposal would include the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, members of the Legislature, Michigan Supreme Court justices, judges on the Michigan Court of Appeals, members of the state Board of Education, trustees and regents of public universities and any other non-federal elected official with statewide duties.

The highest-ranking staff person in the office of each legislator, the heads of state departments, members of state boards and commissions and executive branch staff exempt from civil service also would be covered by the proposal.

Because the group is proposing a constitutional amendment rather than a legislative initiative, the Legislature would be unable to amend the proposal, as it did in 2018 with proposals to increase the minimum wage and mandate paid leave.

Voters Not Politicians is the group behind Proposal 2 of 2018, which created an independent redistricting commission. In October, the Advance reported the group was working with Republcan leaders and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce the possibility of proposals to reduce the influence of lobbyists, including possibly extending legislative term limits. 

Voters not Politicians is not part of the Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes. 

“We welcome all hands on deck to put laws and systems in place to fix the problems in Lansing,” said spokesperson Elizabeth Battiste. “Our door is open to working with any groups that are serious about giving political power back to the people and bringing ethics, transparency and accountability to Lansing.”*

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Andrew Roth
Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth is a regular contributor to the Michigan Advance. He has been covering Michigan policy and politics for three years across a number of publications and studies journalism at Michigan State University.