BRITE Act a first step in ending Lansing’s culture of corruption

BRITE Act a first step in ending Lansing’s culture of corruption

Increased transparency, tightening rules on gifts and travel, ending lobbying revolving door, but bills should go further 

LANSING – The Michigan League of Conservation Voters today issued the following statement in support of the BRITE Act, a seven-bill package aimed at improving transparency, government ethics, and accountability to rein in influence from corporate special interests in Lansing and increase enforcement of elections and campaign finance law violations.

“The unfortunate truth is there is a culture of corruption in Lansing that has existed for too many years, most recently laid bare to the public with the disturbing embezzlement and criminal enterprise charges against former House Speaker Lee Chatfield,” said Lisa Wozniak, executive director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “Corporate special interests, big polluters and our monopoly utility companies have far too much influence in Lansing because of our lax campaign finance laws and toothless ethics rules when it comes to money. 

“We cannot protect our drinking water, Great Lakes, air and health if lawmakers are able to brazenly solicit corporate special interests for dark money they then use as personal slush funds. The BRITE Act is a meaningful first step in increasing transparency and accountability in Lansing, and we call for swift passage.  We should also strengthen it – including following federal law and outright banning lawmakers and their staff from asking anyone to give to a 510(c)(4).

“We believe all loopholes should be closed and our state should lead the country in disclosure and ethics around money in politics,” continued Wozniak. 

In recent years, a number of high ranking officials in the Michigan Legislature have faced charges and even jail time for corruption, accepting bribes and the use of dark money nonprofit organizations to fund extravagant expenses. Ex-House Speaker Rick Johnson who led the Michigan marijuana board is currently serving time in prison for accepting bribes. 

Another glaring problem is the use of dark money 510(c)(4) non profit organizations and PACs that are created and controlled by members of the legislature and used for fundraising and electoral purposes with donors that do not need to be disclosed. 

Recent charges filed by Attorney General Dana Nessel allege non profit organizations Michigan! My Michigan! and Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility were used as fundraising tools and funneled millions of dollars into the Unlock Michigan effort to oppose COVID-era health orders, all while hiding donors who funded the vast majority of the effort. Both organizations have ties to former Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and other GOP lawmakers. 

New charges announced this week against former House Speaker Lee Chatfield allege Chatfield embezzled public and private funds to support personal lavish expenses, like expensive hotels, family vacations and more. The charges allege Chatfield used public and political funds via a political organization he created called “The Peninsula Fund” to pay for high expense vacations and exotic travel.

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