Hill Harper and the problem of financial disclosure in Michigan

Feds have teeth to police incomplete financial disclosures; under bills headed to Whitmer’s desk, Michigan does not

It’s a good thing Hill Harper is running for federal office.

Because Harper seeks a seat in the U.S. Senate in Washington, rather than the Michigan Senate in Lansing, his financial disclosure paperwork will be amended, clarified and made right.

In Harper’s financial disclosure, first reported by The Detroit News, he told federal officials that he owns no bank account, despite loaning his campaign nearly $500,000. Despite high-profile acting jobs, book sales, and ownership in a downtown Detroit coffee shop, Harper claims to bring in no income.

Monday on X, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum gave Harper a lesson in what’s required.

“You own a business in Detroit. That business has income. You need to report it. Your ownership stakes are not a secret,” Byrum wrote in one post.

“If this filing was a mistake, it is time to fix it and if you are going to err, do so on the side of transparency, not obfuscation,” Byrum added. “You owe it to the voters to ensure that they have the full picture when asking them for their votes.”

Byrum noted that 66% of Michigan voters had approved Proposal 1 of 2022, which included a financial disclosure requirement for people holding Lansing-based offices: governor, lieutenant governor, legislators, secretary of state and attorney general. Legislators added a companion bill covering candidates for those offices.

What Byrum didn’t mention is that federal law demands complete and accurate financial disclosures. The financial disclosure bills headed for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk do not.

And before Proposal 1, and until Whitmer signs the bills, there is no disclosure requirement at all.

Harper will amend his federal disclosure. If the political consequence didn’t ensure it, the legal consequence does: a $50,000 maximum fine and up to five years in prison. That’s a lot of money for a man without a bank account.

But if Harper were running for state Senate in Michigan, he wouldn’t need to amend anything.

Even an outright, knowing, pre-meditated lie on a Michigan financial disclosure comes with a maximum fine of $2,000. If a candidate wanted to save some money, it would be better not to file a financial disclosure at all. The maximum fine is only $1,000. There’s also no prison time. Harper did not respond by publication time to an email seeking comment. 

Consequences make cultures.

People usually don’t file bad federal disclosures, because doing it carries a real penalty. In Lansing, there is no such deterrent.

James David Dickson is managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email him at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.