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Study ranks Michigan as one of most corrupt states for state-level politicians

March 20, 2012

Michigan state-level politicians can get away with some of the most corruption in the nation, according to a study released this week.

A state integrity survey argues Michigan financial disclosure regulations are too lax, allowing state lawmakers to keep hidden potential financial conflicts of interest and keep perks from lobbyists off the books.

The first State Integrity Investigation, a joint project between the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International, gave Michigan a failing grade and a score of 58 percent — the seventh worst in the nation.

“It’s pretty bad all around,” said Caitlin Ginley, the study’s project manager. “On the whole, there’s a lot of work to be done, and there’s a lot of room for improvement in state government.”

Much of the interaction between legislators and lobbyists is off the books, as they don’t have to disclose some gifts, said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to monitoring campaign financing.

Meals less than about $50 per month do not have to be logged, and vacations do not have to be recorded if they are less than about $700.

“That’s a huge blind spot,” Robinson said.

State Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, has $286.15 on record for receiving food since January 2011, although he said he supports a change to include every dollar in the reported numbers.

“I think we can get by without somebody buying our food all the time,” Meadows said.

State lawmakers have made several attempts to close some of the holes outlined. Last month, House Democrats introduced a package of bills to bring more financial disclosure, which is still in the House.

“There has to be pressure to do this, and right now I’m not seeing it,” Meadows said.

An explanation of the ranking cites unlimited independent expenditures on the part of political action committees — similar to the national Super PAC issue much talked about in the presidential election.

It also discusses the absence of laws that require legislators to disclose certain high-stakes investments and forms of income that could reveal conflicts of interest.

On the study’s report card, Michigan failed in 10 of the 14 categories, including legislative accountability.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” international relations sophomore Akhilesh Menawat said. “I think about it (when voting), but you don’t know that stuff unless it’s published.”

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