Leonard’s Lon­don jun­ket ex­poses ethics law holes

The Detroit News - - Business -

Whether Tom Leonard was overtly lob­bied on the jun­ket he took to Lon­don seems less im­por­tant than the ques­tion of why the Michi­gan House speaker would think it’s OK to ac­cept a free trip that in­cluded in­ter­ac­tions with lob­by­ists who have busi­ness be­fore the Leg­is­la­ture.

Un­der Michi­gan’s weak­est-in-the-na­tion ethics laws, Leonard didn’t have to re­port the late Au­gust travel funded by GOPAC Ed­u­ca­tion Fund, a non­profit that aims to groom emerg­ing Repub­li­can lead­ers.

Michi­gan’s rules for as­sur­ing its elected lead­ers aren’t com­pro­mised by trips, meals and gifts are so ho­ley that even an all-ex­pense paid visit to Lon­don doesn’t merit re­port­ing and re­view.

Leonard’s travel only came to light in con­nec­tion with the forced res­ig­na­tion of Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosen­berg, who stepped down last week due to an FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his travel. Rosen­berg also was on the trip to Lon­don, and pho­tos that ac­com­pa­nied news sto­ries of his res­ig­na­tion show Leonard in the group pos­ing out­side Lon­don’s Bull­dog Bar.

Also on hand were lob­by­ists for the pay­day lend­ing in­dus­try, which cur­rently has a pack­age of bills be­fore the state Sen­ate that, if passed, will end up in the House.

Leonard’s spokesper­son, Gideon D’As­san­dro, said the speaker may have met the lob­by­ists, but didn’t talk busi­ness with them.

Politi­cians on the trip vis­ited Par­lia­ment, talked with Bri­tish of­fi­cials about trade and stud­ied Mar­garet Thatcher and Win­ston Churchill.

The trip may have been use­ful for Leonard. If it was, and GOPAC is con­sid­ered an ap­pro­pri­ate fun­der for such travel, Leonard should have at least been re­quired to jus­tify the visit and ac­count for any lob­by­ists he en­coun­tered. GOPAC, by the way, does not re­veal the names of its fun­ders.

Michi­gan has only mar­ginal rules govern- ing such jun­kets. The state doesn’t re­quire groups like GOPAC to re­port the trips it pro­vides law­mak­ers. And as long as a law­maker says no lob­by­ing oc­curred dur­ing the travel, as Leonard con­tends was the case in Lon­don, he or she doesn’t have to dis­close much of any­thing.

That makes Michi­gan’s ethics law a joke. A leg­isla­tive leader shouldn’t be able to ac­cept a trip paid for by a third party, a trip that also in­cludes lob­by­ists, and avoid re­port­ing it sim­ply by claim­ing not to have been lob­bied.

The Leonard trip high­lights the need for greater pro­tec­tions to as­sure the in­tegrity of elected of­fi­cials. Noth­ing about this smells right.

Dale G. Young / The Detroit News

Leonard’s trip high­lights the need for greater pro­tec­tions to as­sure elected of­fi­cials’ in­tegrity.

NOLAN FINLEY

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