Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Thursday voluntarily released a personal finance disclosure and other materials as part of a Sunshine Week effort.
Benson’s 2018 documents show that she drew a $300,000 salary as CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality and $70,000 from Wayne State University, where she was dean of the law school.
Ryan Friederichs, Benson’s husband, is chief development officer for the city of Detroit and earned a $165,000 salary. Their total household income was $535,000. The disclosure also shows a variety of bank and retirement accounts.
Known for its weak transparency laws for public officials, Michigan is one of just two states that exempts elected officials from making those disclosures.
Benson called on the Legislature to follow her example and require personal finance disclosure for elected officials.
“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.”
Benson also released her work calendars for the months of January and February, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist also did, in part, last month.
While it’s unclear whether the GOP-led Legislature will follow the Democratic Secretary of State’s call, a general push for greater transparency has become a rallying cry for several Lansing officials.
The House of Representatives next week is expected to take up a package, House Bills 4007–4016, that would open up the governor’s office to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and create the Legislative Open Records Act (LORA) to administer requests for the Legislature.
Benson’s office and other state departments, such as the attorney general and Department of Environmental Quality, are already susceptible to FOIA.
FOIA advocates told the Advance this week that they view the pending legislation as “a good starting point,” and note that enhanced transparency measures can be of great benefit to elected officials by helping grow public trust.
That’s a sentiment Benson appears to share.
“It’s basic information that our citizens have a right to know,” she said. “I look forward to working with the Legislature to require this [financial] disclosure.”