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Published: Wednesday, 2/13/2013

Needed: ethics law

Former Michigan state Rep. Paul Opsommer, a Republican, normally supported GOP Gov. Rick Snyder’s programs — except when it came to building a new bridge over the Detroit River.

Mr. Opsommer didn’t seem to care that business interests in his state almost unanimously supported a new bridge, or that thanks to Canada’s willingness to front construction costs, it would cost Michigan taxpayers nothing. As chairman of the House Transportation Committee, he did his best to block enabling legislation for the bridge, before Governor Snyder found a legal way to circumvent the Legislature.

Last month, thanks to Michigan’s term-limits law, Mr. Opsommer had to give up his House seat. He immediately took a job as a lobbyist for Manuel Moroun, the billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge who has worked to protect his monopoly from the threat of competition by the new bridge. Mr. Moroun was a generous donor to Mr. Opsommer’s last election campaign.

All this may seem outrageous, but in Michigan, it is not illegal. In many states, lawmakers are forbidden from working for at least a year for an interest for which they previously had oversight power. Not in Michigan.

The state also has too few reporting requirements that monitor how lobbyists spend money to influence lawmakers. A study by the Center for Public Integrity found that Michigan doesn’t adequately enforce the rules it has.

The center gave Michigan a failing grade for ensuring the integrity of its public officials, which comes as no surprise. That grade was issued before Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway resigned last month and pleaded guilty in connection with real estate fraud.

Citizens need to have confidence in the integrity of their public officials. Lansing should speedily enact a law that bars lawmakers from accepting campaign funds from people whose interests they regulate, and from going to work for such people for at least two years after they leave government service.

Michigan hardly needs the shame of coping with the worst government money can buy.



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