Law
5:51 pm
Tue March 12, 2013

House Democrats push for changes to ethics, election laws during 'Sunshine Week'

It's Sunshine Week, an annual push for open government and the public’s right to know stuff.

Democrats in the state House tied the introduction of a package of bills to Sunshine Week. The bills include a number of changes to Michigan's laws and constitution regarding ethics, campaign finance, and elections.

Many of the changes come in response to a Grand Rapids election scandal last year. Former State Rep. Roy Schmidt caused a huge controversy when he switched political parties just before the primary election and helped recruit a fake Democrat to run against him. He lost big in the general election, to State Rep. Winnie Brinks.

The Kent County prosecutor found Schmidt didn’t break any laws. But a grand jury in Ingham County is also trying to figure out if there’s a case. The court recently extended its deadline to reach a decision to August.

Now Democrats, including Brinks, want to change elections laws to close what they see as loopholes that have, so far, allowed Schmidt to avoid criminal charges.

“When people talked to me at the doors, no matter what (political) party, I really heard about a lack of trust in government … and so I think that these are small steps that we can take to, hopefully, restore some faith in government,” Brinks said.

Similar bills were introduced last summer following the scandal. But the bills died at the end of 2012, when the legislative session wrapped up.

“I guess Republicans do have two choices, you know they can try to pass the bills that they think are important to make necessary changes or they can accept the status quo, flaws and all," Brinks said. She says she has not personally talked to Republican lawmakers yet about the bills.

Other proposed changes (find a more complete list here) would create an online database of lobbyists, restrict corporate spending on elections, and prevent lawmakers and state department directors from immediately taking positions as lobbyists once their state service is complete.