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Lobbying cooling-off period, campaign finance bills get hearing for the first time

Some Michigan bills in a legislative package known as the “BRITE Act,” aimed at ensuring greater accountability of elected officials, received an initial hearing in committee Thursday.

One bill in the package would give the state more power to stop suspected campaign finance violations as they occur. The other bill aims to prevent lawmakers from becoming lobbyists immediately after leaving office.

The campaign finance bill would work by allowing the secretary of state to ask a court for an injunction against suspected violations once they receive a complaint. Supporters of the bill worry that without this option it would be difficult to stop violations long after they have occurred.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said she expects fewer violations to occur if the bill passes.

“You know, the purpose of a larger enforcement force is twofold. First, to create a greater deterrent to violations, which I think would probably be the most immediate and significant effect. And then of course to provide more enforcement options on the other side, if there are violations,” Benson said Thursday during testimony before the House Ethics and Oversight Committee.

Benson said plans for a newer version of the bill would also give her office subpoena power in investigations.

Committee on Minorities Vice Chairman Tom Kunse (R-Clare) said the legislation is a start, although he was concerned about language in one of the bills that would require all cases to be heard in Ingham County Circuit Court in the area of ​​Lansing.

“Is it burdensome to the defendant to say, ‘Okay, you have to drive to Ingham County to defend yourself?’ Well, it shouldn’t be that way,” Kunse told reporters after Thursday’s hearing.

Meanwhile, sponsors of the lobbying cooling-off period said it is common for lawmakers to start lobbying immediately after their terms expire.

The concern is whether this gives the appearance that something is influencing their vote.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt) said this erodes public trust.

“It appears that instead of voting with their constituents in mind, instead of acting as public officials, they are acting on behalf of some other special interest,” Hope said.

Again, Kunse said he appreciates the legislation, but compared it to a watered-down version of a bill introduced by Republicans. While Hope’s bill includes a one-year waiting period, the Republican proposal would make lawmakers wait two years before joining the lobbying force.

Kunse said he also dislikes exceptions in the bill, such as lobbying for a state agency.

“The biggest lobbyists in the state of Michigan are the departments. Right? The biggest lobbyists in the state of Michigan are the Department of Ed, and the Department of – they all come in, they’re the ones asking for the most money. So no, we don’t need all these exemptions. So no, I don’t think they go far enough. But it is a start,” Kunse said.

Another part of the package that has not yet received a hearing would require nonprofits and political action committees affiliated with lawmakers to register with the state.

Thursday’s hearing came after an announcement earlier this week that a former Michigan House speaker is facing more than a dozen charges for allegedly misusing funds from his 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization and political action committees.

Critics of the BRITE Act question whether, as currently written, this would have prevented this alleged behavior.

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