In the opening of his State Integrity Investigation piece, reporter Chris Andrews shows us why Michigan gets the failing grade:
The campaign finance system here has more holes than I-94 after a spring thaw. Big spenders and special interests can easily shovel millions of dollars into election activities — secretly if they choose... And the financial disclosure system for state elected officials?
Well actually, there isn’t one.
Welcome to Michigan, the “Trust Us” State when it comes to transparency. Reform efforts are frequently launched, sometimes debated, always shelved.
The State Integrity Investigation is a project of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.
The project aims to "expose practices that undermine trust in state capitols -- and spotlight the states that are doing things right."
You can see how all the states stack up here.
Clearly, Michigan is not going to make the highlight reel.
Overall, after looking at 330 specific measures of "state integrity," Michigan ranked 43rd among the 50 states.
And while Lansing has not been rocked by scandals seen in some other state capitols around the country, Andrews writes there are "glaring holes," when it comes to transparency in money spent to lobby lawmakers, and in the money spent to elect or defeat candidates in Michigan.
Michigan Supreme Court elections, a seat money can buy
How money can influence the perceived integrity, or the real integrity of an office was highlighted in a recent piece by Michigan Radio's Lester Graham.
In his Michigan Watch report, Money Talks: Campaign money and Supreme Court justice candidates, Graham illustrated how once a candidate wins a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court "no one really knows if a case is being decided strictly on the merits, or because of someone’s hidden political donation and its influence."
Graham spoke with former Michigan Supreme Court justice Betty Weaver about this:
“It isn’t just the appearance of impropriety, this money does have influence. Common sense tells you it does. I’ve been there,” said Weaver.
LG: Do you think you’ve seen on the court influence because of a large donor at one time or another?
“Yes, I do think that the ability to control who gets appointed and who gets elected has an effect on the decisions of the court, so you can pretty well guess how it’s going to go,” said Weaver.
In his State Integrity Investigation piece on Michigan, Chris Andrews notes that Gov. Snyder proposed an ethics package when he was running for governor in 2010. Snyder called for banning gifts from lobbyists, "cooling-off periods," and regulating issue advertising.
But while Snyder achieved many of his campaign goals after taking office in 2011, these reforms were put on the back burner.
Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, told Andrews that lawmakers in Michigan are unlikely to change anything unless the public demands it.