State’s new financial disclosure reports are better than nothing — but barely


Monday marked the first time the governor and every other state official were required to post on a state website where they and their spouses get their money.

Thanks to Proposal 1 from last year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and all 146 current legislators must post at least vague information on their assets on a new secretary of state web page.

The point is to expose anyone living high on the hog or exploiting their position for financial gain. It is a nice idea — but with more holes than a pasta colander.

Had this law been in place during the days of former House Speaker Lee Chatfield, we would have learned that he had received a salary from the State of Michigan, but not the amount.

We could have read that he had investment accounts. But only the amount, if he wanted to.

He could disclose it if someone paid for his drinks and meals, as some people did. But it’s not explicitly written into the law, so some people disclosed it, and others did not.

If someone paid his airfare to a conference, he could disclose that someone paid for his airfare ... but leave out who it was or even where he was going.

We’d have learned that Chatfield has a wife named Stephanie. She is not a lobbyist. We would not have known that she kept books for the Peninsula Fund or any other nonprofits the Chatfield family allegedly used for personal benefit.

We know this from what showed up on other legislators’ sites:

Some listed out an exhaustive schedule of every fundraiser they ever attended where they received a free meal. Others left that whole section blank.

Sen. Joe Bellino listed that he and his wife own an estimated $30,000 in jewelry. Sen. Jonathan Lindsey listed his 1970 Chevelle as an asset. Others shared painfully little.

A couple of lawmakers couldn’t figure out the website and gave up. Three legislators figured out the website twice and posted two rounds of information.

General confusion existed over whether it was necessary to report food and drink with lobbyists since lobbyists already report this on their own reports.

Outside of that, here were some highlights:

  • Whitmer owns a company called Super Deluxe LCC, which The Detroit News reported Monday was created to manage her personal wealth in advance of her book’s release this summer. While proceeds from the book were announced to go to a nonprofit, it’s not known how much Whitmer is contracted to make from its sale.
  • Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist noted that his wife, Ellen, is the senior director of Early Childhood and Education Services for the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, which received childcare development money from the Department of Education.
  • Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson noted that her husband, Ryan Friedrichs, makes $400,000 as a lobbyist for New York-based Related Companies. She reported no business interactions he may have had with the state of Michigan.
  • Also, Benson received $10,000 for giving the commencement address at Wellesley College last year. She did not have to list this dollar amount, but she did anyway.
  • Attorney General Dana Nessel is a trustee for the Plymouth Democratic Club and her wife, Alanna Maguire, is a Plymouth city commissioner.

It’s all interesting bits of knowledge, and none of it points to wider scandals.

On one hand, it’s comforting to know that state leaders are not engaged in graft so blatant that they can’t help disclosing it. On the other hand, the public still has no clue who benefits from a nonprofit 527 account or a 501(c)4.

We’ve learned that a few legislators have side businesses and are married to lobbyists, but we don’t know how much they make from these enterprises unless they voluntarily share their earnings.

In short, it wasn’t nothing. But it wasn’t everything, either.

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at


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