By CRAIG MAUGER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING — Lobbyists who shelled out record amounts in Michigan last year would have to release reports on their spending more frequently under a new proposal from a Republican State House member.
Rep. Gary Glenn (R-Midland) says his new bill, HB 5535, would increase transparency and would improve the timeliness of reports on lobbyists’ efforts to influence state lawmakers. Those efforts include purchasing meals and sending out mass mailings.
Under current law, lobbyists have to submit reports on their spending twice a year: on Jan. 31; and on Aug. 31. The setup leaves a seven-month gap between the two reports. And spending that occurs in early January doesn’t actually become known to the public until late August.
The Aug. 31 report currently covers spending during the period all the way from Jan. 1 until July 31. The Jan. 31 report covers spending during the period from Aug. 1 until the end of the year.
Glenn’s bill would set up a quarterly reporting system, adding reports on April 30 and October 31. It would be similar to the reporting schedule for political action committees.
Glenn said the purpose of the bill is to get information to the public more often and closer to the date of the actual lobbying activity.
“It's just one element of our commitment to more openness and transparency in state government, which hopefully expands taxpayers' ability to hold their elected officials accountable,” Glenn said in an email.
A report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network earlier this year found that lobbyists spent a record amount in 2015: $38.7 million. It was a $1.7-million increase over the previous year.
Lobbyists also spent more money buying meals for public officials last year. There was $844,184 in reported spending on food and drinks in 2015.
In addition to only requiring two reports per year, Michigan’s current lobbying laws don’t always require lobbyists to report which lawmakers benefit from food and drink purchases and travel purchases.
The thresholds for that type of disclosure, which includes the public official’s name, is triggered when more than $58 in food and drink is bought in a month or when $775 in travel and lodging is purchased.
House Republican leadership has referred Glenn’s bill to the Oversight and Ethics Committee.
Six years ago, Gov. Rick Snyder called for a similar change to Glenn’s bill in his white paper on government reform, entitled, “Create A Culture Of Ethics In Michigan Government.”
“A comprehensive disclosure of Michigan’s lobbyist activities will reduce impediments to progress and keep the best interest of the public in mind,” said Snyder’s white paper.