National ethics group broke state laws to acquire signatures

Source: Wikimedia

By Yaël Ossowski | September 1, 2015 |

Wherever it campaigns for political ethics reform, the activist group seems plagued by legal and ethical challenges of its own.

this week, reported that the ethics
board in Tallahassee, Fla. was slammed – by its own former supporters – for conflicts of interest in the July hiring of legal counsel.

At almost the same time, a Lansing,
Mich., city attorney ruled that a ethics group
there broke state laws in acquiring signatures for a ballot initiative
that would require lobbyists to register with the government and offers
public financing of political candidates.

Lansing ballot initiative on the ethics board was deemed
unconstitutional because it violated numerous provisions of the charter
as well as state law,” Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope told

The city attorney determined, campaigning to get money out of politics, broke the law
when it put money into politics. In hiring a California firm for $25,000
to help acquire signatures in the state, the city attorney charged, the
group violated a law that requires that any group that spends more than
$500 register with authorities of the state of Michigan as a
ballot-question committee.

actions, confirmed by you, have indicated to me that the formation of a
Ballot Question Committee was necessary and that you have violated
Michigan Campaign Finance Law by failing to form a Ballot Question
Committee upon spending or receiving more than $500.00,” Ingham County
Clerk Barb Byrum wrote in a letter in July to Walter Sorg, head of the Lansing Citizens for Ethics Reform.


Sorg told the problem was “a drafting error” by

ethics proposal will not appear on the ballot due to claims (by the
city) of a drafting error by the attorneys retained by,”
said Sorg. “That organization decided not to appeal the ruling in

Lansing city attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.

The Lansing ballot initiative written by Sorg with the help of attorneys from would have installed an ethics board much like in Tallahassee, but would also have created “limited” public financing for political campaigns.

proposal would have strengthened the powers of the existing Board of
Ethics, instituted more extensive reporting of finances by public
officials, provided for a form of limited public financing of city
campaigns, require registration and disclosures by those lobbying the
city, and closed the ‘revolving door’ between public service and
lobbying,” Sorg told

The national campaign by to propose changes to campaign and ethics laws in municipalities across the country next moves on to Seattle in November, where a ballot initiative will bring up the question on ethics committees and much more.

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