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No More Lobbyist Gifts, Free Lunches Under Progress MI Amendment

January 28, 2020

Progress Michigan announced Thursday a constitutional amendment initiative to ban lobbyist gift-giving to public officials, create a two-year “cooling-off period” for elected officials getting into lobbying and mandate more strenuous lobbyist reporting requirements. 

At this point, Progress Michigan has funded most of the effort behind the Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes, which seeks to collect 425,059 signatures before a July 6 deadline.

The coalition announced the filing of its petition language with the Bureau of Elections Thursday.  It awaits approval to form from the Board of State Canvassers (BSC).

Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott didn’t rule out the possibility of using paid signature gatherers, but also said there were no firms under contract to do paid petition gathering at this time. The only public disclosure for Close Lansing Loopholes, issued back in October 2019, showed no money directly collected or spent.

“We do believe that this is something that the public is going to latch onto in the same way that they did around redistricting reform, and we hope that there will be a lot of volunteers,” Scott said, referring to the Voters Not Politicians-backed (VNP) constitutional amendment approved at the ballot in 2018 that got there without any paid signature gatherers.

Scott didn’t specifically name any groups funding the coalition or considered part of the coalition, and aside from Michiganders for Fair and Transparent Elections, no other group representatives spoke Thursday.

“I think any group that believes in good government will be on our side,” Scott said.

At a previous press event with the Close Lansing Loopholes group, the Michigan Nurses Association and Planned Parenthood were among those associated with the committee.

The Close Lansing Loopholes proposal would ban all gifts from lobbyists and their clients to public officials and their immediate families. Scott said this would include lobbyists taking lawmakers out to lunch, for example.

It would also seek to end the “revolving door” of elected officials jumping into lobbying after office by mandating a two-year “cooling-off period” before that could occur. 

The public officials included under the amendment would include the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, lawmakers, Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals judges, the elected statewide education board members and “any other non-federal elective office with statewide duties,” according to Progress Michigan.

The proposal would also include university presidents, the highest-ranking employee in the office of each lawmaker, members of state boards and commissions, heads of principal departments and executive branch staff exempt from civil service.

Other provisions highlighted in the proposal by Progress Michigan include:

  • Prohibit “contingency pay” for lobbyists, where their pay depends on the success/failure of their lobbying.

  • Require lobbyists and their clients to register and report all lobbying expenditures.

  • Require lobbyists and public officials to keep a public record log of lobbying activities and communications.

  • Require lobbying logs from public officials and lobbyists as well as records of lobbying expenditures and public communications attempting to influence public officials to be kept for at least six years after the reports are filed.

  • Require an identifier on all public communications that urge the general public to influence public officials.

  • Give the Secretary of State powers to enforce these changes, implement penalties, and create forms and procedures to follow the law.

What the proposal doesn’t do is change any federal regulations governing nonprofits that don’t have to disclose their donors, which includes Progress Michigan. 

Scott did say some provisions of the proposal would cover Progress Michigan in the sense that the group spends money to tell people about bills they like and don’t like, and Progress Michigan would need to disclose that activity.

Among the reporting provisions, Scott said it would require lobbyists to disclose meetings they have with lawmakers and report what was discussed in those meetings. Phone calls and texts would need to be accounted for, too.

Scott said the proposal aims to make Michigan a “leader in lobby reform” and that “lobbyists are running things in Lansing, and they have been for too long.” 

Scott acknowledged Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) has previously spoken about making government more transparent and accountable, but “there’s been nothing since then.”

Scott was asked about VNP and its aspirations to push some sort of good government initiative. He said Progress Michigan tried to reach out to VNP, but didn’t have any direct conversations with the group.

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