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Whitmer differs with Benson — and Whitmer — on financial disclosure for spouses

Governor cites identity politics for her concern, but bills treat all spouses equally

When reporters asked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer about the financial disclosure bills debated last week in Lansing, and especially the push to strengthen the spousal disclosure requirements in the bills, the governor said she was worried about how the requirements would affect women.

As Bridge Michigan reporter Jonathan Oosting wrote on X:

Gov. Whitmer says she is concerned disclosure of a spouse's assets could be “held against” female candidates for public office. She is okay with requiring lawmakers to disclose information about spouses that you can already find on Google, she said.

The intent behind financial disclosure laws is to let the public know the financial interests of the people who represent them.

The belief that spouses should be included is widely held in Lansing, even if critics argue that Senate bills 613 and 614 don’t require enough information. As written, the bills only require officeholders and candidates to name their spouse and their occupation field — not their employer.

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

One critic of that standard is Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Benson, a female officeholder, believes the spousal disclosure requirements as written are too lax, not that they impose too much of a hardship.

“The spousal disclosure provision in the bills includes (such) minimal information as to make it relatively ineffective,” Benson testified to the Senate Oversight and Ethics Committee. “We should include not just the occupation, but also the employer in financial disclosure for spouses. The current language creates too many loopholes. If you're going to include spouses in this additional language in the legislation, then you should do so in a meaningful way or not at all.”

As written, the bills treat spouses of both sexes the same.

Detroit News reporter Craig Mauger dug into Whitmer’s time in the Legislature and found that the governor is at odds with her earlier self.

Back in 2006, as a state senator, Whitmer sponsored Senate Bill 1216, which would have required spouses to disclose every income source above $1,000.

But even that bill contained a loophole for self-employment. A self-employed spouse would only be required to do what Senate bills 613 and 614 require, to name the nature of the field without any specifics.

The Legislature is under a state constitutional mandate to pass a financial disclosure law by Dec. 31, due to Proposal 1 of 2022.

If that deadline is not met, Rich Studley, one of the four co-chairs behind Prop 1, has indicated litigation is possible.

Studley told Michigan Capitol Confidential that the bills as written do meet the minimum threshold, but they could be strengthened in two areas: tougher spousal disclosure, and more teeth for willful offenders.

As written, people who lie on their financial disclosures are only liable for a maximum fine of $1,000. And people who don’t file disclosures at all can only be fined $500.

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.