Group launches Michigan ballot drive to rein in lobbying

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A group launched a ballot drive Thursday that would target lobbying in Michigan's Capitol by banning free food and drink for state elected officials, requiring former lawmakers to wait two years to become lobbyists and creating a new system to track lobbying activities.

The Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes filed language for the proposed constitutional amendment with the state elections board. The effort is being spearheaded by Progress Michigan, a liberal advocacy organization.

The ballot committee, which plans to start circulating petitions after the wording is approved, would have until early July to submit 425,000 valid voter signatures.

"The reality is that lobbyists are running things in Lansing and they have been for too long. For years, there's been talk about the need for more transparency and accountability in Lansing, but nothing has been done," said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Lansing-based Progress Michigan. "Michiganders want and deserve an open and accountable government, and yet we still rank dead last in transparency and accountability."

The measure would prohibit lobbyists and their clients from giving anything of value to public officials, which would be defined as statewide elected officials, department directors, political appointees in the executive branch and lawmakers' top aides. Currently, lobbyists must report travel and lodging paid for or reimburse to a public official in excess of $825, food and beverages above $63 a month or $400 over a six- or seven-month period, and any "gift" — including tickets to events — above $63 in any one month.

Unlike most states, Michigan also has no mandatory "cooling off" period before a government official may register as a lobbyist, except when a legislator resigns from office.

The initiative also would prohibit contingency-pay agreements where lobbyists' pay depends on the success or failure of their lobbying, require lobbyists and public officials to file a monthly detailed reporting log of lobbying activities and communications, and mandate additional disclosure about who funds political ads.



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