It’s an enduring rite of January — the convening of many state legislatures nationwide. From Albany to Honolulu to Santa Fe, many of the rituals, customs and rules that dominate state capitals are the same. But not everywhere. Legislative sessions kick off this week in Idaho and Michigan, but with a difference.
Despite ongoing efforts to bring about reform, the Great Lakes State and the Gem State are the last remaining holdouts that don’t require lawmakers to disclose anything about their personal finances.
And while government watchdogs say this sort of personal financial disclosure is a crucial tool for holding lawmakers accountable to the public, the prospects for change under the capitol domes in Boise and Lansing are uncertain at best.
In Michigan, Democratic Sen. Steven Bieda has introduced seven bills since 2003 seeking such disclosures, including one bill that remains pending. “I’ve been pushing this bill ever since I was in the House of Representatives,” Bieda said. “But, who knows, maybe it’s this article or the article that says we are the last in the country to require financial disclosures that will make us take this up and vote on it?”
Such disclosures are commonly required for elected officials from U.S. Congress down to local offices. In the case of state legislators, the forms typically require annual filings to include a lawmaker’s primary employer, occupation, or job title and additional income or business associations.
In December, the Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press published “Conflicted Interests,” an investigation that analyzed the disclosure reports from 6,933 lawmakers across the 47 states that required such reports. The probe found numerous examples across the country of lawmakers who have introduced and supported legislation that directly and indirectly helped their own businesses, their employers or their personal finances.
The project also revealed that at least 76 percent of state lawmakers holding office in 2015 reported outside income or employment, a necessity for many legislators given the part-time structure and pay of many of the elected positions.
Disclosure reports from Michigan, Idaho and Vermont were not included in the investigation because they did not require them at the time. Last year, in direct response to the Center for Public Integrity’s 2015 State Integrity Investigation, Vermont legislators created its first-ever ethics commission, which kicked off Jan. 1, two days before their session started. Vermont will begin requiring disclosures starting this year.
As of last week, Michigan and Idaho remain the final holdouts on disclosures.