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Michigan ranks extremely low in 'government integrity'


When hearing the phrase: "Your state is in danger of government corruption," a movie plot may come to mind.

But this is real life.

And with current Michigan laws, there may be some plot holes that could use revisions.

The Better Government Association (BGA) and Alper Services released a study this week ranking the states based on their "Integrity Score."

"For Michigan to be so near to the bottom of the list is reprehensible," said Andy Shaw, CEO and President of the BGA.

Michigan was number 48. For those who need help with geography, that's 48th out of 50, pretty close to last.

The study examined state's open meeting and freedom of information laws, whistleblower-protection laws, and laws for conflict of interest. These laws are put in place to avoid corruption in government. 

Michigan's most glaring low score was in the category of conflict of interest. The largest hindrance to the state is that it is one of only 3 states that doesn't require elected officials to release their personal finances. 

But what is that a big deal?

"It's up to us," said Shaw, "It's the watchdog function. We have to watch them. It must be transparent and accountable.  Otherwise we'll never have good government; it will always be for the benefit of the insiders, not us. We're the tax payers."

Rich Robinson is with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. He explains that conflict of interest laws are not put in place to intrude into the privacy of our policy makers, but to unveil anything suspicious. 

Credit BGA/Alper Services
Michigan is 3rd to the bottom on the Integrity List.

"So, if an office holder sells a modest, middle class house," explains Robinson, "Then buys a multi-million dollar estate on the lakeshore, we have a sense that something has happened. We have the right to know if this was something that was extraordinary."

The thing is, any bills that have been introduced to increase Michigan's "integrity" have been glanced over. 

"They never get any traction," said Robinson, "The conversation seems to go along the lines of, 'This is an intrusion of my privacy!' But that's not why it's done."

Shaw hopes this list holds the officials in Lansing's feet to the fire. 

Credit flickr.com

"We keep our eye on government by speaking up, attending meetings, and being able to evaluating our officials to see if they are working for us or themselves," Shaw explained, "That's what conflict of interest laws are about."

"Michigan hasn't been taking this seriously. That's what we found." 

Robinson says this low number doesn't mean everything going on in the legislature is a conflict of interest, or something that citizens should be overly worried about. It just means that Michigan is missing a few policies.

"It's one of those situations," said Robinson, "where it's good to trust, but we need to verify." 

Click here to see the complete list of the BGA's Integrity Score.

-Alana Holland, Michigan Radio Newsroom.

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