Michigan Senate Candidates Defy Transparency Rules, Leaving Voters in the Dark

A pile of $100 bills separated into stacks of $10,000

When a person decides to run for one of the country’s highest elective offices, voters have a right to know the candidate’s financial interests. Information about a candidate’s financial background is vital for the public’s trust because it allows voters to assess what influences may come to bear on a candidate or whether there are possible conflicts of interest that may arise if the candidate is ultimately successful.

The information also helps build confidence in the integrity of the person who hopes to one day serve the public.

Two CLC complaints filed with the Senate Ethics Committee show that eight candidates for U.S. Senate in Michigan are at best ignoring the law, and at worst knowingly and willfully dodging the law’s requirements.

The first complaint involves Senate candidate Hill Harper. Mr. Harper was until recently a working actor featured prominently in an ABC show called “The Good Doctor.” He also provides a resume on his campaign website, which lists numerous businesses and assets he owns, like a coffee shop in Detroit, a hotel in New Orleans, and rental properties in Los Angeles, Detroit, and Newark, New Jersey.

However, Mr. Harper has not reported any income from these endeavors on his personal financial disclosure report, which he filed on November 7, 2023. When confronted with this oddity, Mr. Harper admitted through a campaign spokesperson that his financial disclosure report does not reflect certain “revenue streams” — but that he would not provide an accurate report until February 28, 2024 — well after any allowable 90-day extension for filing such a report, and the day after the Michigan presidential primary election, when voters’ attention perhaps will be elsewhere.

This is a potentially serious violation of the Ethics in Government Act. At this very moment, Mr. Harper is well aware of the “revenue streams” he was required to disclose in his financial disclosure report (which should cover any income earned going all the way back to the beginning of 2022) — but Michigan voters are not.

The second complaint involves seven other Michigan Senate candidates who appear to have met the requirements for filing personal financial disclosure reports, but do not have any such reports on file with the Senate.

These failures to file reports may not be knowing and willful violations requiring the most severe penalties, but the lack of filings raises questions about why the Senate is allowing candidates to skirt their transparency requirements, sometimes for months, while voters are in the crucial information-gathering state of the electoral process.

This is an opportunity for the Senate, which has a notoriously bad track record on ethics enforcement, to show the public that it cares about transparency. The Senate must investigate these missing filings and the reasons why the candidates have not provided the requisite information to voters.

When candidates fail to accurately and timely file their financial disclosure reports, they deprive voters of vital information about the financial interests of those who hope to represent them. In some cases, the failure to accurately and timely file these reports puts even more at stake than the voters’ informational interests.

The missing or inaccurate reports can conceal critical details from the Ethics Committee or law enforcement, including facts about how a campaign for Senate is ultimately funded.

Delaney is a Senior Legal Counsel on CLC's Ethics team.