Editorial: New job poses conflict questions

LSJ.com

Former state lawmaker Paul Opsommer’s decision to take a job with a company owned by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun should leave voters with cynical thoughts. They should translate their concern into pressing current lawmakers to pass ethics laws that keep outgoing lawmakers from becoming lobbyists without a cooling-off period of at least a year.

Opsommer, a Republican who had represented the DeWitt area in the House, reached the end of his term-limited time last year. Barely a month after leaving office, he announced last week that he’s taken a governmental affairs position with CenTra Inc., a Moroun family transportation interest, where he will work on policy efforts on both state and federal levels. As chair of the House Transportation committee, Opsommer was an often vocal opponent to efforts to build a new bridge between Detroit and Canada that would compete with the Ambassador Bridge, which is privately owned by the Moroun family through its Detroit International Bridge Co.

Opsommer says he did not take a position with the bridge company to avoid the appearance of impropriety, but it’s hard to see how the public could find much difference. The perception can’t be easily eliminated.

Michigan would be well served to limit senior executive branch officials and lawmakers from jumping directly into lobbying jobs or industry jobs in areas over which they had oversight, such as insurance, health care or transportation. It’s time for reform.

Lobbying oversight needs teeth

Speaking of ethics reforms, Michigan could do a lot to improve its oversight of lobbyists’ spending. An LSJ report this week showed that lobbyists spent some $36.6 million in 2012 to influence public policy in the state, up 3 percent from 2011 and nearly double what was spent in 2001.

The Center for Public Integrity, which did an in-depth state-by-state analysis of ethics, transparency and accountability issues, gave Michigan an overall F grade for integrity and specifically a zero score on key areas of involving lobbyists. A key reason is that while the state has reporting requirements, the center’s review found such reports are not filed frequently enough and are not sufficiently comprehensive. In addition, there are no requirements for auditing lobbyists’ disclosures. And while there is a fine for being late with a filing, there are insufficient penalties for any violations of rules such as spending limits.

Michigan is one of only eight states that got an overall F for in its public integrity score card, and ranked 44th out of 50 states. Again, it’s time for improvement.

An LSJ editorial