November 21, 2019

How Financial Disclosure Could Diminish Corrupt Electoral Practices 

Guest Opinion
By David Frederick | June 15, 2019

The continuing dysfunctionality of the federal government is, in part, attributable to a single presidential candidate. His failure to comply with traditional norms pertaining to financial disclosure protocols denied voters access to information relevant to his candidacy. His repeated refusal to provide federal income tax returns, accompanied by an unprecedented barrage of intentional lies, attests to the importance of that information being made public.

Is there anything the citizens of Michigan can do to prevent the problem from reoccurring? It is perhaps surprising, but the answer is actually yes.

A fundamental axiom defining democratic republics is that citizens are not to be denied access to relevant information regarding political candidates. Included within that assumption is the right of voters to have access to verifiable information — information that enables them to determine if candidates for federal office havefinancial interests that constitute a potential conflict of interest with the duties of office they’re seeking.

Securing this right for Michigan voters does not need to be a complex process. All that is required is for the State of Michigan to enact laws establishing and/or modifying relevant financial disclosure protocols for candidates seeking federal offices on Michigan ballots.

With partisan politics currently at a notably high level of dysfunctionality, the process for implementing a financial disclosure law in Michigan will likely prove to be difficult. Nevertheless, enacting legislation sufficient to accomplish this objective requires little more than a measure of bipartisan support demonstrated by the Michigan state legislature and the signature of the governor.

The content of the required legislation would need to include something akin to the following: “In order for an individual’s name to appear on any ballot in the State of Michigan as a candidate for a ‘federal elected office,’ the documentation supporting that nomination is required to include a complete set of the candidate’s federal income tax returns for the five consecutive years immediately prior to the year in which the election is held. And furthermore, those documents are to be made available to the public for review during a period of time of not less than 120 days prior to the date of the election.”

Note that these certification requirements would also apply to candidates seeking reelection. The importance of this centers on the requirement that the requisite tax returns are for the five consecutive years immediately prior to the year in which the election is held.

Establishing requirements for this time span addresses a concern particularly relevant to candidates seeking reelection — because elected office holders over time could become more committed to enhancing and maintaining their corporate-based financial support rather than representing constituents.

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens brings this issue to our attention in his 2014 book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.” He does this by quoting a portion of Republican President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 annual message to Congress:
“All contributions by corporations to any political committee for any political purpose should be forbidden by law; directors should not be permitted to use stockholders’ money for such purposes; and, moreover, a prohibition of this kind would be as far as it went, an effective method of stopping the evils aimed at in corrupt practices.”
Roosevelt’s recommendation to Congress became law in 1907. For the next 75 years, it served well in protecting the integrity of our electoral process. But a series of Supreme Court decisions — beginning with 1982’s Federal Election Commission v. National Right to Work Committee and culminating with 2010’s Citizens United — have unraveled the protections from the very corruption Roosevelt predicted.
If enacted, a financial disclosure concept such as that presented will be a step toward reversing that undoing. That in and of itself is justification for its enactment; there are, however, additional benefits to the concept that merit consideration. For example, tax-based financial disclosures are a nonpartisan means for the vetting of political candidates. Because the information required will be equally available to the public, news media, nominating parties, and opposition candidates, it would be difficult to logically assert that its enactment will benefit any one political party to the detriment of others.

A second benefit is the near certainty that it is extraordinarily unlikely that either of the two major political parties would nominate a candidate for president of the United States who has been deemed ineligible by the State of Michigan.
A Michigan financial disclosure law will additionally provide a path for other states to follow. As other states enact similar measures, the American experiment in developing and sustaining a nation of, by, and for the people will be better protected than it is today.
As a citizen of Michigan, you can be a part of restoring protections for the rights of American voters to have access to the information required to cast informed ballots. Uncle Sam needs the help of middle- and working-class Michiganders in reaffirming our fundamental political values. Are you there yet?

David Frederick, a centrist-based Independent, regards extremist political partisanship as a dangerous threat to the well-being and security of middle-class Americans. He further believes reestablishing coordinated grassroots truth-to-power messaging is a prerequisite for diminishing that threat.


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