The Right Path to Transparency

This week, Attorney General Bill Schuette (R-Midland) announced a plan to make government more transparent that he would pursue if elected Governor. In addition to regular meetings with constituents, Schuette proposed seven major policy reforms to make government agencies and officials more accessible and accountable.

  • A five-year ban on lobbying by former state elected officials and key executives
  • Ban gifts from lobbyists for elected officials
  • Require candidates and state office holders to release their tax returns and submit personal financial disclosures
  • Create a Michigan Accountability Office
  • Make MSU/UM/WSU boards more accountable by giving appointment power to the governor
  • Require state universities to live by the same transparency rules as the majority of state government
  • Require the governor and lieutenant governor to follow transparency laws

Some of these proposals are up for debate, such as the change to college board selection, but others would quite easily receive broad-based support by residents of the state.

Meanwhile, U.S. Representative Dan Kildee (D-Flint) has introduced a federal bill to withhold funding from states that do not require certain accountability standards. These standards include:

  • Requiring state legislators to publicize financial reports
  • Forbidding state officials from requiring staff to make political donations
  • Banning bribes to receive a state contract

The standards that Kildee has proposed seem like sound, common-sense requirements, and the first is identical to of Schuette’s plan. However, there is one major problem with Kildee’s bill.

In the United States, the federal government is set up to do a limited number of tasks, as delegated to the federal government in the Constitution. The Tenth Amendment gives all other powers to the states (if they are not explicitly withheld from the states) or to the people.

The Constitution does not give the federal government the power to set transparency rules for the states. The states are allowed to make their own rules for how their government operates. The Constitution does require that states have republican systems of government, but their is no mandate for transparency within the Constitution.

Kildee’s bill, although well-intentioned, is a terrible bill that restricts the states and gives the federal government more control over the states. My suggestion to Kildee is this: if he wants to reform Michigan’s state government and increase its accountability and transparency, then he should run for state office. As a Congressman, he has no business trying to manage state affairs.

Kildee was considering a run for Governor last year, but he instead chose to run for reelection to Congress. That’s fine. He can decide whether he wants to serve in federal government or state government, but he shouldn’t try to do both. Congress manages the federal government, and state governments manage themselves.

I agree with Congressman Kildee that state officials should disclose their finances. I agree that government should be open and transparent. I disagree that the federal government should force states to do so, especially when Congress has its own transparency issues, doling out settlements to cover up sexual harassment scandals.

So get the federal government out of state business, and let Governor Schuette lead the way on transparency—the right way.

 

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