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Michigan financial disclosure bills double fines, strengthen spousal disclosure

Senate oversight committee approves bills at 12-minute meeting

Michigan’s Senate Oversight Committee approved financial disclosure bills for officeholders and candidates Tuesday, two months ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline. The meeting took all of 12 minutes.

Senate bills 613 and 614, dealing with elected officials and candidates, respectively, were introduced late last month and quickly taken up by the Senate committee.

Watch the hearing yourself, on Michigan Senate TV

Last week the committee heard testimony from Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and former State Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, who urged that the bills be strengthened. Benson and LaGrand offered two criticisms: The financial penalties are too low — $1,000 for knowingly filing a false disclosure, $500 for a non-filer — and the spousal disclosure requirement is too vague, only asking the spouse’s career field.

Read them for yourself: Senate Bill 613 and Senate Bill 614

Senate Oversight Committee Chairman Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, said before Tuesday’s vote that the amended bills address these concerns.

“First is that we take a look at the fines that were in the original bills and we double the maximum fines for late filing fees and knowingly filing an incomplete or inaccurate report,” Singh told the committee. “Those fines, where they were, are now doubled, and those numbers would be adjusted for inflation every four years. We also require a filer to disclose the name of their spouse's employer. In the past we have had just their occupation. We have now expanded that to include also the specific employer. We require a filer to dislose whether their spouse was a registered lobbyist or lobbyist agent during that reporting period.”

The updated bills have not yet been published.

Even with the reported amendments, these fines contrast with the penalties for false filings for U.S. congressional candidates and officeholders: a maximum $50,000 fine and up to five years in prison. Neither Michigan Senate bill broaches the subject of jail time, even for non-filing or making a false statement under oath.

While Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expressed her fear that spousal disclosures could be used against female candidates for office, most officials on record support spousal disclosure, including Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, thanked Singh for expanding the spousal disclosure rule and credited LaGrand for his testimony. Passing a bill with the spousal disclosure language as originally written would have “left open a really gaping hole that I think would have led to distrust if we had moved,” McMorrow said before voting yes.

One piece of enforcement that did not make the bills was granting the state authority to deny someone a seat for not filing accurate or timely financial disclosures. On the advice of lawyers, Singh told the committee, that will be treated as a separate bill.

“I think is an important mechanism that we need to take a look at as we have this continued conversation,” Singh told the committee. “So, just wanted to say that it's not in these bills, but it'll be a continued conversation.”

Both bills were approved by a 5-1 vote, and both head to the Senate Committee of the Whole.

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.