Lansing – A Michigan lobbyist has rented a home across the street from the state Capitol to six lawmakers, according to redacted disclosures, weeks after The Detroit News revealed a special interest group quietly owned former House Speaker Lee Chatfield.
In less than three months, two separate rental deals involving lobbyists and seven lawmakers have been uncovered in Lansing, raising questions about compliance with state lobbying requirements and the possibility of other deals between attorneys and politicians.
Although rental agreements between lobbyists and legislators are legal, State policy requires lobbyists to report financial transactions they have with the officials if the turnover is more than 1450 dollars in a year.
Chris Thomas, who has been Michigan’s director of elections for 36 years, said disclosing the agreements is meant to avoid conflicts of interest and help the public understand whether lawmakers are receiving special benefits that could qualify as illegal gifts.
“If you don’t report, you don’t know any of this,” Thomas said of the disclosure policy.
Michigan’s lobbying law, which dates back to the 1970s, is under new scrutiny amid two criminal investigations involving former officials and lobbyists: one against Chatfield, a Republican from Levering, and the other against Rick Johnson, a lobbyist and former chairman of the marijuana industry. State Medical Officer. Licensing Board.
In 2015, non-profit The Center for Public Integrity ranked Michigan 50th out of 50 states for systems to prevent corruption. On lobbying disclosure, Michigan was ranked 43rd.
Last month, Scott Everett, a lobbyist with Fraser Consulting, who represents a small group of clients, filed an amended report for 2021 and 2022, showing that six lawmakers rented rooms in his downtown Lansing home. The order, despite state law, was not previously disclosed.
On Friday, the Michigan Bureau of Elections sent Everett four letters about his amended reports and asked Everett for more information about his dealings with lawmakers, according to documents obtained by The News. The bureau wanted Everett to detail whether the rent payments were made monthly or in one lump sum, as his redacted reports indicated. He was given until March 19 to respond.
In December, The News revealed that Chatfield had been leasing an apartment in Lansing for six years from the Michigan Automobile Dealers Association through a business entity affiliated with the association.
The time period spans two years when Chatfield was Speaker of the House in 2019 and 2020 and had the ability to set the House’s agenda. In December 2020, the House approved a proposal sponsored by auto dealers that would have sought to prevent some electric vehicle manufacturers, such as Rivian and Lucid, from bypassing the dealer network and selling vehicles directly to customers. .
Terry Burns, executive vice president of the Automobile Dealers Association, said Chatfield paid fair market rent and the deal should not be reported because it is through a business entity affiliated with the association, Walnut Tree Properties, and not the association itself. Burns is listed in state business filings as the resident agent for Treehouse Properties, which used the same address as the auto dealer association.
Car dealers have not changed their disclosures to reflect lease transactions. And Burns did not respond to a request for comment about the Everett documents.
‘I don’t miss it anymore’
Everett confirmed in an interview with The News that he recently amended his previous disclosure to disclose his lease deals with six legislators in 2021 and 2022. Like the Auto Dealers Association, Everett was also a property leased through a commercial entity, Capitol. LLC House.
The Everett lobbying firm represents numerous clients, including the Michigan Fish Producers Association, the Oswald Bear Ranch and the Recreational Vehicle and Campground Association.
The lobby business is a subsidiary of Fraser Trebilcock Law Firm. Everett said he and the company’s lawyers reviewed the law and determined they had to change their previous reports to reflect the lease agreements.
“I don’t miss it anymore,” Everett said.
His amended statement and his new proposal for the 2022 deadline showed that Reps. Timothy Besson, R-Bay City; Ken Borton, R-Gaylord; Brad Puckett, R-Berrien Springs; John Roth, R-Interlochen; Rep. Kurt VanderWall, R-Mason, and Sen. John Demouse, R-Harbor Springs, have rented space in the home for two years.
Borton paid $450 a month for his rent, which amounted to $5,400 a year. Borton, Beson, Roth, VanderWall and Damos did not respond to requests for comment.
Some experts argue that Michigan’s lobbying law requires lobbyists to disclose rental agreements, even if the individual’s monthly payments are less than the $1,450 reporting threshold. This is because the law broadly describes a reporting transaction as any “transfer or exchange of money, goods, other property, or services for value.”
Many legislators who live within driving distance of Lansing rent apartments in the city to use during the weeks when the legislature is in session.
Puckett said there are few places for rent near the Capitol, and he didn’t know what Everett’s capacity would be in the city when he started renting a room in the house. Puckett added that he disclosed payments to the Capitol for “Lansing Housing Rentals” in his campaign committee reports.
Puckett’s report showed $2,700 in election committee expenses for rent in 2021. Everett documents show Puckett paid $8,200 in rent from January 2021 to July 2022. Puckett has previously called for ethics reform in Michigan government, saying it’s possible other lawmakers will have to deal with the rent. which have not been disclosed.
“I’ve lived in the gray areas of Lansing and I want to make sure that I can make the necessary effort to make things healthier,” he said.
Review of the election bureau
In Michigan, lobbyist disclosure is governed by the Secretary of State’s office. State law allows late fees to be assessed. from 10 to 1000 dollars.
Jake Rollo, a spokesman for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, said the office is reviewing Everett’s amended disclosure.
As for Chatfield’s relationship with car dealers, that may be the subject of further investigation.
“The Bureau of Elections is reviewing potential campaign finance violations by the former president and will share information with attorney general investigators upon request,” Rollo said. “Due to the ongoing investigation, we will not be commenting.”
Beginning in January 2022, Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office will investigate Chatfield’s actions. Court records obtained by The News in October showed that state investigators are looking into Chatfield’s allegations of a “criminal enterprise” that may have involved embezzlement, bribery, campaign finance violations and controlled substances.
Chatfield has denied wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, federal authorities are investigating Johnson, a lobbyist and former speaker of the House. The News reported on February 1 that FBI agents and a federal grand jury are investigating whether Johnson and others received bribes in exchange for state licenses to operate medical marijuana facilities.
The investigation led to calls for lobbying reform.
Thomas, a former state elections director, said Michigan’s current lobbying law was “cobbled together” in the 1970s. The law is widely seen as difficult to enforce, vague and full of loopholes that allow connections between lobbyists and lawmakers to remain hidden.
“This is an example of how not to draft a bill,” Thomas said.