Advance Notice: Briefs

House Democrats call for investigation of former Speaker Chatfield

By: - March 21, 2022 1:21 pm

House Speaker Lee Chatfield (left) and Rep. Jason Wentworth (right) | Nick Manes

Michigan House Democrats are calling for a bipartisan committee to investigate former House Speaker Lee Chatfield and his conduct in office.

There is an ongoing criminal probe into the Republican amid allegations that he sexually abused his sister-in-law beginning when she was 15, directed campaign funds to family members and legislative staffers, and gave staffers in his office $300,000 in taxpayer-funded bonuses. Chatfield maintains his innocence and has not been charged at this point.

“Lee Chatfield is publicly accused of disgracing this chamber and betraying his oath of office. He may have committed terrible abuses of his office during his time as an elected official and the people of Michigan deserve to know how this alleged web of corruption operated,” said state Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit). “While his criminal investigation is on-going and hasn’t materialized in charges at this time, it is gravely apparent that there are many indications of ethical transgressions against our institution that we bear a responsibility to root out and put into the public view.”

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Democrats plan to introduce the resolution calling for the bipartisan select committee this week.

State Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) suggested that members of the Legislature may not back the investigation if they were involved with Chatfield.

“This investigation should be an easy decision for any member of the Legislature with nothing to hide in their involvement with the former Speaker’s alleged network of financial exploitation and corruption,” Carter said. “House Democrats have been loud and clear about where we stand in our calls for honest and open government. It is now time for the Republicans in our chamber to meet us here — better late than never — and stand with the Democrats for truth, transparency and accountability.”

Tate said the resolution could force members into being transparent about whether they support the investigation or not.

“If there are any in our government who would stand in the way of a bipartisan and thorough investigation into our former Speaker of the House, let them stand in our way in the broad daylight of the House floor, otherwise I look forward to a robust investigation beginning in earnest,” Tate said.

Gideon D’Assandro, a spokesperson for House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell), reportedly told WKAR that House leadership was uninterested in the investigation.

“The police are looking into what happened. The House is staying focused on cooperating with MSP and LPD, assisting their investigations and getting them whatever they need. Partisan press releases won’t change that,” D’Assandro reportedly said.

Chatfield is no longer in office due to Michigan’s term limit law, but Carter said that shouldn’t shield him from scrutiny of his conduct while in office.

“We refuse to allow term limits to serve as a statute of limitations against the investigative power of our Legislature and the discretion for this investigation lies solely with Lee Chatfield’s successor, Jason Wentworth,” Carter said. “Let’s not forget, the Speaker could have begun this investigation the day the news broke. This investigation lives or dies at his discretion, and we sincerely hope that discretion favors transparency and accountability over partisan protectionism, rampant corruption, and financial conspiracy.”

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Andrew Roth
Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth is a former reporting intern with 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.