Chamberlin: Lax conflict-of-interest regulation fosters ethical problems in MI legislature

March 16, 2017

Quotes from Professor Emeritus John Chamberlin were featured heavily in the March 13 MLive article, "For Michigan lawmakers, conflicts of interest go self-policed and undisclosed," by Emily Lawler. The article examines examples of state legislators proposing amendments and legislation that would personally benefit them, their businesses, or potential business partners and how Michigan state law does not adequately account for these possible conflicts of interest.

"Compared with states with real conflict of interest laws, ours seems really weak," says Chamberlin.

The article notes that state lawmakers are permitted to hold jobs outside of the legislature, but there is no law determining what is a conflict of interest. Consequently, legislators are left to themselves to decide what is and is not a conflict of interest. Says Chamberlin, "It's a bit of a black box. We don't know who's conflicted and we don't have very good ways of querying 'is somebody conflicted.'"

Lawler goes on to explore various reforms that could be considered by the legislature to ensure greater transparency and accountability for lawmakers, Chamberlin suggests that one such reform would be to have attorneys help legislators understand what constitutes a conflict of interest and how to avoid such issues. "To have the person decide that for themselves is inappropriate," he says.

John R. Chamberlin is a professor emeritus of political science and public policy. His research interests include ethics and public policy, professional ethics, and methods of election and representation.

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