Benson discloses finances, urges lawmakers to require it
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson voluntarily disclosed her personal finances Thursday while calling on state lawmakers to make such reporting mandatory.
The Democrat posted a financial disclosure form on her department’s website. It is modeled after the statement used by Congress and lists her income, assets and other information.
Michigan is one of just two states where legislators pass and reject laws without the public knowing about their personal finances. Other state elected officials do not have to file disclosures either, though governors typically voluntarily release portions of their tax returns while gubernatorial candidates in the last election voluntarily issued versions of financial disclosure statements.
“If Michigan residents are to have confidence that their elected leaders are acting in their best interests, they must know who else, if anyone, may be influencing their decisions behind closed doors,” Benson said in a statement. “One of the best ways we can restore the public’s trust in our government is to require our elected leaders to fully disclose any outside income, investments, travel or gifts they may receive as candidates or elected officials.”
Financial disclosure bills have died previously in the Republican-led Legislature, where potential conflicts of interest become public record only if lawmakers take the rare step of recusing themselves from voting.
Benson, who took office in January, disclosed 2018 income that included a $300,000 salary to be CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, a $70,000 salary to work as an associate law professor at Wayne State University and her husband’s $165,000 salary from the city of Detroit. She reported between $102,000 and $270,000 in three joint bank accounts along with between $250,000 and $500,000 in her 403(b) retirement account through Wayne State. Her husband had between $100,000 and $250,000 in a 401(k) account.
They listed no liabilities. Benson said she is on unpaid leave as a tenured Wayne State faculty member while serving as secretary of state.
Her announcement came during Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of open government. Benson on Wednesday launched a “transparency” webpage that includes her calendar, a link to her agency’s spending and information such as how to file a public-records request to her department.