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AG opinion offers guidance for politicians to comply with Michigan's recent disclosure rules

Michigan Capitol building in Lansing.
Emma Winowiecki
/
Michigan Radio
Michigan Capitol building in Lansing.

A formal legal opinion released Wednesday by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel upholds financial disclosure rules for elected officials and candidates. The rules were drafted by the Secretary of State’s office as part of an open government amendment adopted by voters in 2022.

The opinion upholds rules that state elected officials must offer details of outside income and that must include names and addresses of the source.

“The purpose of the amendment is to enhance public confidence in elected officers,” said the opinion. “Knowledge of public officers’ financial interests and entanglements permits the public to determine when those officers might be acting for their own gain.”

In the opinion, Nessel said details matter.

“Simply disclosing that a public officer has a ‘pension,’ ‘annuity,’ or ‘deferred compensation’ plan would not advance the purpose of the amendment,” she wrote.

The opinion was requested by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, whose office is in charge of enforcing the disclosure amendment. Benson’s communications director, Angela Benander, said the opinion gives legal standing to the rules.

“It is indeed constitutional for us to require more information about investments, unearned income from outside sources, so getting this opinion gave us that clarity to say that, yes, we are acting in accordance with the [Michigan] Constitution and the law,” she said.

Both Benson and Nessel are Democrats.

Formal attorney general opinions are binding on state officials and agencies but can be reversed by courts.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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