Jul 12, 2007

Editorial ignores real reason for no lobbying reform in Lansing in favor of cheap shots

An editorial on the need for lobbying reform in Lansing that ran in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus speaks more for the problem with newspaper consolidation than it does for the need for checks on lobbying.

The editorial was picked up from the Lansing State Journal, which is owned by the same company that owns the P & A. The editorial laments the need for lobbying reform and takes some easy shots at the Legislature, but it does not even mention why there has been no action addressing lobbying reform or any meaningful ethics measures. It ignored the fact that the Republicans have controlled both the state House and Senate for more than a decade, and up until five years ago the GOP also had a veto-proof edge with a Republican governor as well. Why no reform then?

The editorial does hint at the real problem with any ethics reform, but it never comes out and says what the reason is.

In late March, Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, filed Senate Bill 380, which would prohibit public officials from accepting out-of-state travel paid for by lobbyists. The bill's gone nowhere.
Earlier in March, the House actually passed an ethics measure, House Bill 4313. This bill would force ex-elected officials to wait one year before lobbying state government. It passed the House 99-6 and moved to the Senate, where it has vanished.

What’s the one thing that’s common to both of those bills? The answer is the lack of action in the Republican-controlled, obstructionist Senate. Vanished is a good word, but ignore is a better word. Even a fellow Republican can’t get a bill through that addresses lobbying. HB 4313 was introduced by Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville, and passed with bipartisan support, and it has sat in the Senate since March 1 with no action. It’s also kind of ironic that the editorial mentions who introduced the Senate bill that the only action it has seen is being filed with the Senate bill clerk, but it neglects to mention the sponsor of a bill that has actually been approved.

There was actually a bill overwhelmingly approved in the last session by a vote of 104-2 on Sept. 13 in the House that would prohibit “a public officer from accepting a gift or reimbursement of out-of-state travel expenses from a person required to be registered as a lobbyist agent.” What do you think happened to that bill? You guessed it; it went where all ethics bills go to die, in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Livingston County voters will recall that this was part of an ethics and so-called "election campaign finance reform" package of five bills being pushed by Rep. Chris Ward, R-Brighton, then the House Majority Floor Leader. All but the bills passed, and the only one that received any opposition was the one sponsored by Ward. All five bills were then sent on to the Senate where they – you guessed it – died in the Senate. In fact, Ward’s bill only passed by five votes because it really benefits his party. Rich Robinson, Director of the non-partisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said in published reports in June of last year that the bill favors Republicans, but the Senate still let it die.

Obviously, the budget has taken up the lion’s share of the House’s time, but they kept some important campaign promises in the short six months they have been in control by replacing the Single Business Tax (SBT), ended immunity for drug companies if their drugs kill or maim the people who take them and slowed down the glut of Canadian and out-of-state trash by banning landfills from expanding until 2011 and raising the absurdly low tipping fees. They accomplished this while bringing actual debate back to the House floor that had been absent for many years and addressing perhaps the worst structural budget deficit in the state’s history.

The House still managed to address some ethics issues. Majority Floor Leader Steve Tobocman, D-Detroit, introduced House Bill 4285 that will require “candidates for state office or judge, state department heads and current office holders to file personal financial disclosure statements that include the names of all family members; his or her employer; the source and amount of earned income and other or her spouse; a list of assets including real and personal property, stocks, bonds; a record of transactions involving the previous items; a list of liabilities over $10,000 of the candidate or a family member; any business ownership; any trustee, director, etc. positions held by the individual in a business, union, non-profit, educational or other institution; any future employment agreement, including leave-of-absence agreements; any honoraria received by the office holder or spouse; and more.” That also received bipartisan support, winning approval 89-19 on March 15. It is now in the Senate where no action has been taken, and something tells me it will receive none in the future.

The obvious question that needs to be asked is why take up any ethics bills with the pressing budget issues when you know it will just be ignored by Mike Bishop and his cronies in the Senate? That’s the question that should have been asked and answered by the editorial, as well as why “lobbying restrictions go nowhere at the Capitol.”

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