Column: Make Legislature transparent

[The following is a Detroit News editorial by Jeremy Moss]

What grade could be worse than an F in ethics? Republican leaders in the state House and Senate seem determined to find out with their fall legislative agenda.

The Center for Public Integrity recently gave Michigan a failing grade on its corruptibility report card, ranking us dead last among all 50 states in terms of ethics and transparency. The report gave Michigan an F in 10 of 13 government operations it examined, including political financing and legislative accountability.

Instead of working to restore trust in state government among our citizenry, two new proposals coming out of the GOP-dominated Legislature this fall — one already signed into law — seek to keep us in our last place ranking indefinitely.

First, Republican legislators pushed forward a plan last month to expand the influence of super PACs in Michigan over objections from Democratic lawmakers.

This new super PAC legislation will allow candidates to bypass the limits that they can solicit from individual donors by flooding the system with unlimited money from corporations that oftentimes cannot be traced back to individuals.

While this proposal cements our failing grade in political financing, the Senate majority leader recently revealed exactly why Michigan gets low marks on legislative accountability as well.

Sen. Arlan Meekhof is working on a proposal to create a money-driven policing authority in our state.

When asked who was behind his legislation to allow Michigan corporations and associations to deploy private, for-profit police forces with full arrest powers, he responded: It’s “not public information yet.”

So who will profit from these private police forces in Michigan? We don’t yet know because the senator’s office — along with the rest of the Legislature — doesn’t fall under the state open records law, so we can’t vet the source of this policy proposal.

Rather than eroding what accountability Michigan has in place, we need to shine a light on the money in our political system and how it influences government decisions like this.

The good news is that despite this agenda in Michigan, we don’t have to remain in last place in the nation for government accountability.

I drafted a series of 10 bills with House colleagues that would expand upon our state’s open records laws so that the citizens who elected us have a better understanding of how exactly we are representing them when we go to Lansing.

This legislation, House Bills 4148-4157, would remove the exemption for governor and state Legislature from the Freedom of Information Act. These bills managed to get through the House both this session and last session with bipartisan support.

Just like last session, however, they are again stalled in the Senate, where the Republican leader refuses to give them a hearing, let alone a vote.

That’s why I’m renewing the call for my legislative colleagues in the Senate to take up these bills and send a clear message that they are working on behalf of the constituents who elected them, and not the corporate interests who may be funding them or stand to gain from their policy proposals.

Until then, transparency advocates like myself must be ready to fend off against a damaging agenda from a last-place Legislature.